Response to SSRREI

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Last week, Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) released a draft of a proposal developed to be presented to the State of California. This proposal, named the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI) is different from previous remediation proposals submitted on behalf of the Salton Sea by various groups. This proposal in particular does not merely ask for a large sum of money, but delineates just how the state can fund the project and recover its investment. Prior to the SSRREI, the most recent proposal required nearly $10 billion from the state. The SSRREI asks for only $3.15 billion, less than a third of the previous number, and proposes that investing in the geothermal energy potential at the Sea would allow the state to recoup its investment.

The authors of Salton Sea Sense are thrilled that IID and Imperial County are proposing a comprehensive and thorough plan for the benefit of the Sea and the State of California. The proposal provides for proven habitat restoration technologies, sustainable economic development in the area, and develops reliable and low-carbon energy production. The plan is both realistic and aggressive, but reasonable in what it requires of California. We support the SSRREI and encourage you to read the draft of the plan’s summary. Once you have read the summary, you can read the technical document Part I and Part II (and proceed to submit comments or concerns directly to IID here).

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As the terms of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) approach their expiration date and with major restoration efforts for the Salton Sea still not a reality, it is reasonable that stakeholders are becoming anxious. The IID is under stress due to the new water allocations and has recognized that the time to act is now if the Salton Sea is to be saved. Being one of the stakeholders with more to lose, the IID wants action now. IID is asking the State of California to respect their end of the bargain and pick up the tab, as was promised when the governor signed the QSA legislation into law in 2003. The IID is providing an attractive plan that is realistic, and even under budget by 2003 standards. Now, we are only waiting for a response from the State.

The SSRREI contains provisions for the creation of a series of wetland ponds and canals to provide habitat for the endangered desert pupfish as well as the myriad of bird species that call the Salton Sea home for some part of the year. This habitat restoration plan is feasible in that it does not rely upon outside freshwater sources, but instead will better utilize water from agricultural drains and from the New and Alamo rivers. Furthermore, this type of restoration has already been tested and proven to work by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). If this initiative is put in place, it will protect the wildlife surrounding the Salton Sea and prevent a collapse of this ecological oasis. If this initiative is not funded and no action is taken, the current ecosystem will be destroyed and the loss of biodiversity at the Salton will be a true tragedy.

A dry Salton Sea would also emit dangerous dust that could lead to increased incidents of cancer and asthma around the Sea and beyond. The SSRREI provides strategies for the mitigation of these emissions via the installation of wind barriers, the establishment of native plant species, and the use of soil binders and gravel to reduce dust formation. The dust mitigation plans are feasible because they are low maintenance, long lasting, and require little to no water from outside sources. If this plan is implemented, the Salton Sea will have a safe, healthy future. If this plan is not put into action, the dust from the Salton Sea will reduce air quality in the Inland Empire to historical lows and cause serious health issues for the surrounding residents. The economic loss from the increased cancer and asthma risk will far outpace the cost of action.

Outside of the physical and ecological issues facing the Salton Sea, which usually get the most attention in the media, the SSRREI does an excellent job of acknowledging and attempting to address the social and economic development of the communities that live in the area. The plan cites the estimated 1700 MW of untapped geothermal and solar energy in the area, which could create up to 170 permanent jobs and over 600 construction jobs PER 100 MW of development. With the addition of jobs created through habitat restoration projects and the recreation opportunities created by restoration of the Salton Sea, this plan has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of Imperial County, Riverside County, and San Diego County residents, some of which are currently among the poorest in the country. Investment in the Salton Sea and its local residents should absolutely be seen as worthwhile to the State of California in order to promote future economic growth in the energy, tourism, and real estate sectors.

In the hope of the State of California implementing a complete, feasible restoration plan within the next 15 years, IID has proposed a plan divided into three phases extending through 2030, with short-term, mid-term, and long-term directives. The vision for the Salton Sea’s future is similar to previously proposed restoration plans. However, the SSRREI provides various ways to begin restoration without conflicting with other proposed plans that already exist or are under development.  IID emphasizes that this plan is developed for long-term success, but stresses that the State must take immediate action in order to protect the Sea and the surrounding area.

The public opinion of the Salton Sea has undergone multiple transformations in the last 120 years. From a benign resource as a salt flat, to a (seemingly) temporary byproduct of the Great Diversion of 1905, to an oasitic escape in the middle of the Southern California desert, to an abandoned reminder of yesteryear and a bird watcher’s paradise, to its current status of ticking time bomb. The IID and Imperial County’s proposal for restoring the Sea gives it the best chance to return to a place of public affection; a place where families can go camping and fishing, a place that can be admired for its truly unique ecosystem and the habitats it provides for dozens of beautiful bird species, and a shining example of a natural landscape that can be preserved while also benefitting its community with its resources. If action is not taken quickly, the Salton Sea’s next and final perception will be that of an avoidable catastrophe that left billions of dollars of damages and countless human lives in its wake.

4 comments on “Response to SSRREI”

  1. After The QSA Kicks In, After Drip Irrigation, and after The New River is nearly dry, The Lake will dry up. There’s simply not enough water available to make the IID Plan work. What’s needed is a Sea to Sea Solution. Dual 30-inch PIPES could be lain in the bed of The New River for the 67 mile trip to geothermal fields near Niland, where the water will be DISTILLED before refreshing the Lake. Such desalination is 80% cheaper than traditional Reverse Osmosis. IID is only interested in their land now under water, where they’d like to exploit geothermal Electricity.

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  2. Hi John, Drew Story here, one of the Salton Sea Sense authors.
    Thanks for reading our post and for your comment!

    Your suggestion is very similar to that of Leroy Essek’s comment on our last post on environmental valuation. I’ll ask you the same thing I asked Leroy, because I am genuinely curious and haven’t yet got an answer from Leroy. Do you have any literature or tech spec documents explaining how the distillation will be 80% cheaper than RO? And then what will you do with the residual, concentrated brine? Your Sea to Sea solution hinges on the use of geothermal energy for distillation, but it appears you have vilified IID for wanting to “exploit” geothermal energy. Why is that? Also, does your 80% cheaper suggestion include the cost of pumping the water from the Gulf to the Salton Sea? Are you familiar with the precipitation issues that accompany pumping saline water or distillation residual or osmosis retentate? It’s an enormous energy consumer in the process of ocean desalination.

    Per the Pacific Institute, even after the IID stops sending mitigation water in 2018, the inflows to the Sea should level out at about 700 KAF/yr, and the elevation of the Sea should also equilibrate within 15 years at about -255ft. The SSRREI design accounts for the decrease in inflows and the resultant retreat of the shoreline.

    You say the IID wants to exploit geothermal electricity: If not for the negative connotation of the word “exploit”, I would say you are probably right. IID and Imperial County really have the most to lose if the Sea goes belly up, wouldn’t you agree? Their citizens would be the ones most immediately impacted by fugitive dust. Their economy would suffer as one of North America’s birding meccas collapsed. Why wouldn’t they want to tap into a source of clean energy, and a source of revenue for their county and their citizens, WHILE funding restoration efforts for a dying ecosystem?

    Thanks again for your comment and for your time!
    Drew

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  3. Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initative

    This proposal is a sensitive as well as a practical solution to Saving the Salton Sea as an important natural habitat for thousands of species of wildlife. It’s positive economic growth to the region has been well-researched and should be strongly brought to the attention of the inhabitants of the surrounding area. This is not only a California wildlife treasure, but if acted upon quickly and properly it can rank as a National Treasure, drawing people from all areas of The United States as well as other countries. This proposal must be acted on QUICKLY—not shelved—because of the delicate condition in which the Salton Sea now exists.

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  4. I have had a chance to talk with Joe Veytia for several hours who owns a company called Salt of the Earth Energy LLC in Texas. He would be someone I suggest you could interview to find out how his company can convert 100% of the waster brine from desalination into highly profitable industrial chemicals. He also has a license for a new type of fuel cell power generation than runs off the byproducts of waste salt.

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