Drought and Water Supply: A Year in Review

Drought and water supply in the Southwest U.S. dominated the water news in 2021, from the Colorado River Basin to California.

COVID-19 continued its grasp on all aspects of life in 2021. Even in the face of the pandemic, the work of providing water as an essential service continued for every agency with the responsibility of making sure their constituents have the water they need to sustain their communities, farms and businesses.

New Uniforms for IID Field Personnel

Starting this week, approximately 500 Imperial Irrigation District employees who work primarily out in the field will begin wearing new uniforms, according to an IID press release. These workers include those required to enter customer properties such as meter readers and service representatives.

Uniforms will transition from the traditional blue shirts to tan colored apparel featuring a larger embroidered IID logo that will help employees be more easily identified by the public.

The Gold Mine that Wants to Save the Salton Sea Reaches for Big Projects

The mining company, Imperial Gold, is currently in the process of being approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to create a new gold mine by Black Mountain that would see new jobs and health benefits introduced into the Imperial Valley. The project is estimated to produce 1.2 million ounces of gold and has the potential for 20 years of production and economic activity that would include $1.1 billion in investment and more than $241 million in taxes and royalties paid to state, federal, and local governments at current gold prices.

Nine-Thousand Trees for Salton Sea Wildlife Marsh Habitat

Nine-thousand trees, mostly willows, are being planted in the 1,000 acre Managed Marsh wildlife habitat in northern Imperial County.

The planting is part of  the final construction phase of the Managed Marsh, located off Highway 111 between the city of Calipatria and Niland.

Managed Marsh-trees-Imperial Valley-Salton Sea

Nine-Thousand Trees For Salton Sea Wildlife Marsh Habitat

Nine-thousand trees, mostly willows, are being planted in the 1,000 acre Managed Marsh wildlife habitat in northern Imperial County.

The planting is part of  the final construction phase of the Managed Marsh, located off Highway 111 between the city of Calipatria and Niland.

Funded by the Quantification Settlement Agreement Joint Powers Authority (QSA JPA), the habitat, located close to the Salton Sea, is a key environmental mitigation project to serve the needs of wildlife that depend on area surface drains in the Imperial Valley. With the planting of the 9,000 trees now underway, the Managed Marsh will be completed by early 2022.

Formed under 2003 legislation to administer the funding of environmental mitigation requirements related to the QSA water transfers, the QSA JPA is comprised of the Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Salton Sea Restoration Projects

As part of the legislation (specifically Senate Bill (SB) 654), the three water agencies of the QSA JPA have a responsibility to fund environmental mitigation projects related to the QSA up to $133 million in 2003 dollars (or $288 million in nominal dollars). The state has the responsibility to cover mitigation costs that exceed the $133 million mark and to address the larger issue of restoration at the Salton Sea. However, the three water agencies also have paid a combined $30 million in 2003 dollars (or $67 million in nominal dollars) as seed money for restoration, which was provided to CDFW as part of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund.

Nine-Thousand Trees for Wildlife in Managed Marsh

The Managed Marsh, built by IID as the implementing arm of the QSA JPA, was funded as part of the $133 million covered by the three water agencies. The project has been constructed over three phases, each 300 acres of marsh, with phase one completed in 2009 in and phase two in 2014. Phase three, the final stage, began last year when as many as 6,000 trees were planted. In total, once the Managed Marsh is completed, the entire facility will consist of more than 17,000 trees as well as wetlands, providing a habitat for more than 60 species of birds and other wildlife.

Public Resource

For years, the Managed Marsh has been open to the public, providing a resource for bird-watching enthusiasts and trail hikers. The facility also is an educational resource for area schools that have used the facility for field trips.

Since the QSA JPA was formed, it has been actively implementing mitigation projects in line with the QSA’s environmental permits, with much of that effort focused on the Salton Sea. For the first 15 years, the QSA JPA funded a fallowing program in the Imperial Valley that provided about 800,000 acre-feet of water to the Salton Sea, both to maintain salinity levels and to give the state time to begin a restoration program. At the same time, the QSA JPA implemented additional projects, like the Managed Marsh, in its ongoing efforts to address environmental mitigation.

Along with working toward the completion of the Managed Marsh, since 2018, the QSA JPA has focused on providing more permanent on-the-ground projects at the Sea, meant to address air quality impacts, including completing nearly 3,000 acres of surfacing roughening projects, with another 7,000 acres in development, growing vegetation, and supporting the reclamation of exposed playa for agricultural development where possible.

The QSA JPA will also be funding a groundwater pilot project as a potential water source for habitat development at the Salton Sea. While separate from the state’s Salton Sea Management Program, these are projects that work hand in hand with restoration in a collaborative effort.

IID Rings Alarm on Shrinking Colorado River Crisis

Imperial Irrigation District warns government officials and residents about how harmful the shrinking Colorado River is to our region. IID General Manager, Enrique Martinez, recently spoke to the United States House of Representatives about the issue the desert southwest is facing. He said the time to act is now.

“The drought has been in existence now for 21 years and has continued to challenge the inflows,” said Martinez.

He said the use of water has continued to increase over the years and the flow of water coming down the Colorado River has decreased. Martinez said unless there is major change in the current climate and we get more water during the winter months, we will continue to spiral with less and less water.

Opinion: Lithium in Imperial Valley Could Light California’s future

President Joe Biden’s pledge to boost America’s clean-energy economy is great news for the planet and aligns well with California’s goal to lead the way to a 100 percent clean energy future. The Biden administration is working to position the United States to lead the world in manufacturing electric vehicles while securing a domestic supply chain of the materials these vehicles require.

Last year, electric vehicles became California’s No. 1 export and our state is proud to be home to 34 zero-emission vehicle related manufacturers.

A Bitter Dispute Ends as California Water Agencies Pledge Cooperation on Colorado River

Two years ago, a pact to safeguard the West’s shrinking water supplies took effect at a ceremony high above the Colorado River.

On a terrace overlooking Hoover Dam, water officials from seven states that rely on the river had gathered to sign a deal in hopes of preventing reservoirs from falling to critically low levels.

Golden State Water Declares Mandatory Water Conservation

Golden State Water Company issued notice to its customers, including Calipatria residents, of its water shortage contingency and staged mandatory water conservation and rationing program, where the already-disadvantage community would not only be expected to conserve water, but also pay fines for water-use violations.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter Tuesday, Sept. 21, requesting a variance for Calipatria Customer Service Area of the Golden State Water Company’s mandatory water conservation and rationing program for the Apple Valley, Barstow, Calipatria, Morongo Valley, and Wrightwood service areas.

Lithium Fuels Hopes for Revival on California’s Largest Lake

Near Southern California’s dying Salton Sea, a canopy next to a geothermal power plant covers large containers of salty water left behind after super-hot liquid is drilled from deep underground to run steam turbines. The containers connect to tubes that spit out what looks like dishwater, but it’s lithium, a critical component of rechargeable batteries and the newest hope for economic revival in the depressed region.

Demand for electric vehicles has shifted investments into high gear to extract lithium from geothermal brine, salty water that has been overlooked and pumped back underground since the region’s first geothermal plant opened in 1982. The mineral-rich byproduct may now be more valuable than the steam used to generate electricity.