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Is That Smell The Salton Sea? Humid Weather Fostering Stinky Air Around Palm Springs

There’s an unmistakable smell in the air. One that creeps into the Coachella Valley during the hot, sticky days of summer.

The sulfuric odor typically shows up when the mercury and humidity are high, and levels of hydrogen sulfide spike in the Salton Sea.

A South Coast Air Quality Management District spokeswoman on Wednesday said the agency hadn’t received any reports of smelly air, and in fact, air quality across Southern California — including Riverside County — was “moderate.” The district, located in Diamond Bar, issues alerts when air pollutants are at levels that could be harmful to humans.

OPINION: Valley Voice: We Must Begin Work On Bringing Sea Of Cortez Water To The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake: roughly 35 miles long by 15 miles wide. Its surface is 233 feet below sea level. Our 17-year drought caused the sea to recede even faster, resulting in greater sea bottom exposure (“playa”). Winds and other factors create serious health issues by fanning PM 10 and other dust particles throughout the Coachella Valley and much of Imperial County. Asthma rates are among the nation’s highest. As Assistant Secretary for Salton Sea Policy, Bruce Wilcox, summarized the Salton Sea’s health picture,  “Conditions are dire and we have to do something now for habitat and … dust suppression.”

San Diego regional water quality regulators issued a new permit for the development of permanent, stand-alone seawater intake and discharge facilities at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo: Water Authority

San Diego’s Water Portfolio Approach ‘Model for California’

State officials Thursday toured San Diego County water infrastructure to get a first-hand look at the region’s successful water portfolio approach for supply diversification.

California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Deputy Natural Resources Secretary Thomas Gibson, State Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and State Water Resources Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel were here to assess the region’s water projects as part of their new role in developing a water portfolio strategy for the state.

Jim Madaffer tweet on water portfolio tour July 2019

Portfolio approach benefits region

“The region is proof that the portfolio approach works,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies continue to develop local projects and explore opportunities that would benefit the region, the state, Mexico and the Southwest.”

At a luncheon meeting and panel discussion at University of California, San Diego following the tour, the agency officials joined a group of more than 150 people to hear how the portfolio approach can help California and the Southwest meet water supply challenges.

Along with the Water Authority Board of Directors, elected officials, business, community and state and local leaders gathered in an auditorium at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center on the La Jolla campus.

Jim Madaffer and Water Portfolio approach

“The state needs to look at a global approach to managing water,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer.

Madaffer said during the meeting that San Diego’s portfolio approach has been successful in increasing the region’s water supply reliability through diversification and innovation.

“The Water Authority’s model is one that can be replicated across the state to help ensure a secure water future for all Californians,” said Madaffer.

State agency leaders echoed Madaffer’s comments.

“San Diego has been a leader in the water portfolio approach,” said Wade Crowfoot. “We have to make the investments to build regional water resilience as part of the Governor’s order to develop a portfolio to manage water in California.”

Water resilience portfolio for 21st century 

The Water Authority invited the officials to visit after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order in April, directing state agencies to “prepare a water resilience portfolio that meets the needs of California’s communities and environment through the 21st century.”

In his May letter to Newsom, Madaffer thanked the governor for the “wisdom and leadership” with the issuance of Executive Order N-10-19, and invited the governor to tour San Diego County’s cutting-edge water facilities.

Newsom’s order also directed his administration to “identify and assess a suite of complementary actions to ensure safe and resilient water supplies, flood protection and healthy waterways for the state’s communities, economy and environment.”

California officials tour San Diego County water infrastructure

State and Water Authority officials before aerial and ground tour of regional water infrastructure. Photo: Water Authority

The California Natural Resources Agency, the California EPA, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in consultation with the Department of Finance, were directed by Gov. Newsom to, among other tasks, “identify key priorities for the administration’s water portfolio moving forward.”

“Governor Newsom wants us to think long and broadly on water,” said Crowfoot. “He wants us to get away from the silos and conflicts on water in California – the mindset of environment groups versus farmers, north versus south, urban versus rural – and work together on water resiliency.”

Significant investments in regional water strategy

“The Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have made significant investments in the last two decades to diversify our water supply, creating a portfolio of resources to support our region’s 3.3 million people and $231 billion economy,” said Madaffer.

During the tour, the officials got a first-hand look at some of those investments, including the San Vicente Reservoir, Olivenhain Reservoir, and the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir

The Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir are a cornerstone of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Emergency and Carryover Storage Project, helping to protect the region from severe water supply shortages. Photo: Water Authority

 

San Vicente Dam

The Water Authority is exploring a battery storage project at the San Vicente Reservoir that would generate clean energy to help meet California’s climate goals. Photo: Water Authority

Global Warming creates water supply challenges

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research meteorologist Dan Cayan told the audience that temperatures and dry spells will increase in California in the future, making water storage, conservation, and forecasts even more critical.

“Global warming climate models show the Sierra Nevada snow pack will be 50% less in 2090 than today’s average April 1 snowpack,” said Cayan.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography research meteorologist Dan Cayan said temperatures and dry spells are expected to increase in California, making water storage, conservation and forecasts even more critical. Photo: Water Authority

Cayan said observations and climate model projections indicate climate change is occurring and will grow stronger. California should expect 1.5-2 degrees Fahrenheit warming by 2050, he said.

New regional pipeline study

Water Authority Assistant General Manager Dan Denham described a new study that will explore the viability of a regional pipeline to transfer water from the Colorado River to benefit multiple users in San Diego County and across the Southwest.

The pipeline system is one of a handful of ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.

Map indicates three potential routes for a proposed regional pipeline system that would move Quantification Settlement Agreement water directly from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. Two of the routes (the light blue and purple lines) follow a southern route. The third proposed route, (shown in both a yellow and darker blue line) follows a northern path. Graphic: Water Authority

Creating a pipeline to transfer Colorado River water to the San Diego region has been studied periodically over decades.

But the new study is focused on how a regional pipeline could provide multiple benefits as part of a long-term water management strategy for California and the Southwest.

The expanded review will consider a system that could create much-needed storage opportunities for the Imperial Irrigation District that could support agriculture while addressing critical issues like the Salton Sea and the need for more renewable energy development.

All-American Canal in Imperial County

Study to Assess Regional Pipeline for Delivering Colorado River Water

A new study will explore the viability of a regional pipeline to transfer water from the Colorado River to benefit multiple users in San Diego County and across the Southwest.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors approved funds for the two-year study at its June 27 Board meeting. The pipeline system is one of a handful of ideas being discussed by San Diego County water leaders to enhance partnerships and solutions that make sense locally and more broadly as part of Governor Newsom’s Water Portfolio Program to develop resiliency statewide.

Regional pipeline

The Water Authority’s upcoming study will look at a regional conveyance system that could move Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) transfer water directly between the Imperial Valley and San Diego. The Colorado River Aqueduct currently conveys the QSA water through Riverside County before it flows to San Diego.

“It may be an idea whose time has come,” said Erik Ortega, president of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors, referring to a proposed regional conveyance system.

Creating a pipeline to transfer Colorado River water to the San Diego region has been studied periodically over decades.

But the new study is focused on how a regional pipeline could provide multiple benefits as part of a long-term water management strategy for California and the Southwest.

Water storage

The expanded review will consider a system that could create much-needed storage opportunities for the IID that could support agriculture while addressing critical issues like the Salton Sea and the need for more renewable energy development.

Graphic shows three proposed regional pipeline routes to deliver Colorado River Water

Map shows three potential routes for a proposed regional pipeline system that would move Quantification Settlement Agreement water directly from the Imperial Valley to San Diego. Two of the routes (the light blue and purple lines) follow a southern route. The third proposed route, (shown in both a yellow and darker blue line) follows a northern path. Graphic: Water Authority

Three pipeline routes

The pipeline under study would be designed at a capacity to convey the QSA water, which in 2021 will reach its full amount of 280,000 acre-feet of water annually. The current Water Transfer Agreement between IID and the Water Authority continues to 2047. But both agencies can agree to extend the transfer another 30 years to 2077.

As the study gets under way, there are three routes under consideration. Each of those routes would connect to the tail end of the All-American Canal where it meets the Westside Main Canal in the southwest corner of the Imperial Valley.

Two of the routes would follow a southern corridor between the Imperial Valley and San Diego, with one route over the mountains paralleling the U.S./Mexico border and the other tunneling underneath the mountains. Both routes would lead to the San Vicente Reservoir in San Diego.

The third and northernmost route would follow the Westside Main Canal toward the Salton Sea, then flow past Borrego Springs, and through the mountains. It would eventually connect to the Water Authority’s Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant in San Marcos.

$30 Million Salton Sea Bill Passes U.S. House

The United State House of Representative has passed H.R. 2740, an appropriations bill in support of a federal agreement to allot $30 million for projects which would address the environmental and health crisis at the Salton Sea. Included in the Bill is an amendment from Representative Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D – Palm Desert) which would dedicate an added $2 million to stymie the decline of California’s largest lake. “This bill reflects the all-hands-on-deck approach we must take to mitigate and manage the decline of the Salton Sea by investing in our local environment and the health of our children, seniors, and families,”read a statement from Ruiz’s issued in a news release from his office.

Salton Sea Restoration Program is moving forward with a restoration project to benefit migratory birds.

Major Habitat Restoration Project Set to Move Forward at Salton Sea

The State of California, after resolving key hurdles, is set to move forward on a restoration project at the Salton Sea to improve habitat for migratory birds, while covering more exposed sea bed.

When the State Water Resources Control Board last met to discuss the status of the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), Chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel called upon the State to resolve issues causing delays in the State’s lead project at the sea—Species Conservation Habitat.

Resolution was reached on several of the issues in May, and now the state can move forward with a design-build plan for constructing the habitat project. Development of the project is a tangible sign of the Salton Sea Management Plan being implemented.

Wetlands project completed

Smaller-scale restoration projects at the Salton Sea are moving forward. California agencies, the Salton Sea Authority, and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Tribe completed a 60-acre wetlands project on the northern end of the sea. Additionally, work is advancing on the 500-plus acre Red Hill Marina wetlands project on the southeast side of the sea. Earthwork is complete, pipelines are in place, and pumps have been ordered and are on their way.

But, the Species Conservation Habitat project is the shining piece of phase one of California’s 10-year approach to the Salton Sea Management Program. It is a proof of concept project that would lay the groundwork for projects to come. The habitat project spans nearly 4,000 acres and entails building a series of ponds that would provide a controlled habitat to manage a fish population, which, in return, would provide a food source for migratory birds. Most importantly, it is a habitat project that would cover an expansive area of exposed playa.

Land issues resolved

What makes the Species Conservation Habitat project so critical is that it has already gone through the permitting phase for the entire 4,000 acres and is ready to move forward with construction. Those who follow the Salton Sea issues anticipated SCH would already be moving forward by now in a phased approach that would have seen about 640 acres completed first. However, an easement issue, lack of staff dedicated to the SSMP, and a learning curve associated with a design-build project delivery process – led to delays in the project.

With land issues resolved, the fact that California is increasing its staff dedicated to the Salton Sea and the Salton Sea Management Plan, and state agencies becoming more familiar with the design-build project delivery method, several obstacles impeding progress have been removed. The 4,000-acre project is expected to start this year be completed in 2023.

The State Water Resources Control Board will likely be holding a new workshop on the Salton Sea in the near future. By then, the State is to have a recovery plan as a path forward to prevent future delays in project development.

Major Habitat Restoration Project Set To Move Forward At Salton Sea

The state of California, after resolving key hurdles, is set to move forward on a restoration project at the Salton Sea to improve habitat for migratory birds, while covering more exposed sea bed. When the State Water Resources Control Board last met to discuss the status of the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), Chairman E. Joaquin Esquivel called upon the State to resolve issues causing delays in the State’s lead project at the sea—Species Conservation Habitat (SCH). The State did reach resolution on several of the issues in May, and now can move forward with a design-build plan for constructing SCH.

Siren Songs Of The Salton Sea: Ideas Abound To Fix State’s Largest Lake. But some say It’s Too Late

Wade Crowfoot, California’s new secretary of Natural Resources, remembers the first time he saw the Salton Sea. He was in his early 30s, headed south to visit his cousin in El Centro, when he saw “this huge body of water next to this stunning, stark landscape, with great mountains to the west. It captivated me.” Jeff Geraci’s impressions of California’s largest inland water body are quite different. For 14 years, as the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s senior environmental scientist, he’s coordinated Salton Sea inspections. “The sea is a repository for sewage, industrial and slaughterhouse discharges and agricultural wastewater,” he wrote in an email, describing wading through rotting fish and partially dissolved bird carcasses, all while pesticide-tainted water still pours in.

Irrigation District Approves Salton Sea Restoration Project

A major Southern California water purveyor paved the way Tuesday for a massive restoration project at the Salton Sea in an attempt to stave off ecological devastation and an unfolding public health disaster. The Imperial Irrigation District, which serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern Southern California, approved an easement agreement with the state on Tuesday that allows the state to begin a critical restoration project at the Salton Sea.

The San Diego County Water Authority has a long history of supporting a portfolio approach to address mounting environmental and water supply challenges in the Bay-Delta, the hub of the State Water Project. Photo: California DWR

Water Authority Invites Gov. Newsom to Tour Facilities, Praises Portfolio Approach to Water Security

The San Diego County Water Authority today praised Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking a proactive, far-sighted approach to water supply planning for California, and pledged to help the governor advance his portfolio strategy for water security in the face of a changing climate.

In a letter to Newsom, Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer thanked the governor for the “wisdom and leadership” shown last week with the issuance of Executive Order N-10-19 and invited the governor to tour San Diego County’s cutting-edge water facilities.

Newsom’s order directed his administration to “identify and assess a suite of complementary actions to ensure safe and resilient water supplies, flood protection and healthy waterways for the state’s communities, economy and environment.” Newsom then directed state agencies to scrap Brown Administration plans for a $18 billion two-tunnel system for moving water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta in favor of a one-tunnel system.

“We congratulate you on Executive Order N-10-19 and stand ready to support you and work with other stakeholders to ensure its success,” Madaffer wrote to Newsom. “If state and federal dollars are prioritized to support local, integrated planning solutions, we will realize the State’s 2009 promise to reduce demand on the Bay-Delta.”

Portfolio Planning For Water Security

The Water Authority has a long history of both portfolio planning for the region’s water security and supporting a portfolio approach to address mounting environmental and water supply challenges in the Bay-Delta, the hub of the State Water Project.

“Almost two decades ago, the Water Authority’s Board of Directors chose to take affirmative steps to change what had been an ‘end-of-the-pipeline’ mentality, when our agency relied greatly on water imported from the Bay-Delta,” Madaffer said. “In other words, we embraced then the intent of Executive Order N-10-19, and believe our experience is proof that it can be done.”

In 2013, the Water Authority joined several Southern and Northern California water districts, Natural Resources Defense Council, and other conservation groups in proposing a Portfolio Alternative for the Bay-Delta. That proposal included a single tunnel, increasing water storage south of the Bay-Delta, and significant investments in local and regional water supplies.

That approach didn’t gain enough support in the Brown administration, but it aligns closely with Gov. Newsom’s executive order.

Strategic partnerships

The portfolio approach also aligns with what history has shown to be a highly successful strategy in San Diego County, which relied almost entirely on water supplies controlled by external interests in 1991.

“After suffering the devastating impacts of drought and water shortages that year, our community got to work, determined to gain local control over the cost and reliability of our water,” Madaffer said. “Since then, the Water Authority and its member agencies have invested over $2 billion in local projects.”

Those investments include:

  • The nation’s largest agricultural water conservation and transfer agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District
  • The first new dam in the county in more than 50 years at Olivenhain Reservoir
  • The nation’s largest seawater desalination plant, producing up to 56,000 acre-feet of water annually
  • The raising of San Vicente Dam, more than doubling its capacity
  • Water-use efficiency programs that have helped reduce per capita potable water use by more than 40 percent in San Diego County

“Every dollar of investment the Water Authority has made represents a commensurate reduction of take on the Bay-Delta,” said Madaffer’s letter.

He noted that the Water Authority and its member agencies are still at work, with more local projects on the drawing board, including a Pure Water potable reuse program being developed by the City of San Diego and the East County Advanced Water Purification Project.

“We are also continuing to plan for the future, with an upcoming study that will explore water, conveyance, storage, treatment and energy opportunities with strategic partners in Imperial Valley, Mexico and across the Southwest,” Madaffer said. “This initiative is the next generation of the Water Authority’s evolution, and the ‘poster child’ for your Portfolio Alternative.”

The Water Authority is looking at new integrated solutions such as a storage account in Lake Mead that would help raise water levels in the drought-stressed reservoir and avoid formal shortage conditions that could hamper water deliveries across the Southwest. The Water Authority also is supporting a Salton Sea action plan that will protect both the environment and public health; binational opportunities with Mexico; and clean energy generation.