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The Salton Sea Water Incremental Funding in Time (SSWIFT) proposal is another reason to be optimistic about restoration at the Sea. [1] SSWIFT, which is backed by County of Riverside District Supervisor John Benoit and the Salton Sea Authority (SSA), could be a simple solution for mitigating fugitive dust while other projects that focus on wildlife preservation and energy development are established around the Sea.

The SSWIFT plan is similar to the 2007 California Resources Agency restoration plan based on building concentric lakes of varying salinity. The general plan is to build levees to separate the high salinity center of the lake from a lower salinity outer lake. This outer lake would receive 140 thousand acre-feet per year (KAFY) of freshwater from the New River and Whitewater River to support bird and fish populations and the inner brine sink would keep the lakebed wet to prevent fugitive dust. Earthen levee embankments will be built from sediment dredged from the Salton Sea, which also will deepen the lake and allow access to existing marinas. This plan will not interfere with other proposals at the sea, such as the SSRREI proposal and the Species Conservation Habitat. [2] [3]

swift

Draft SSWIFT lake: Dark blue regions indicate the outer, low salinity lake and the light blue region indicates the inner, high salinity lake.

Approximately 65 miles of levees at $10 million/mi will be built to construct these concentric lakes. The dimensions of the Sea will change from 367 square miles to 36 square miles, 26 sq mi in Imperial County and 10 sq mi in Riverside County, and the surface elevation will remain at -235 ft for the outer lake but drop to -269 ft for the inner lake with the levees built at -245 ft. The 140 KAFY is sufficient to maintain the elevation of the outer lake such that the SSRREI and the Species Conservation Habitat (SCH) can use any additional water.

Although it seems risky to dredge Salton Sea sediment contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides for use in levees, there are some potential advantages to the SSWIFT plan. This plan could provide cleaner, lower salinity water to support fish and bird species, and maintain water over the emissive playa. The engineering and economic feasibility of this plan is comparable to that of the SCH, but inherent challenges do still exist in implementing both. Even so, short term restoration plans like these are the most viable options for effectively addressing the increasingly pressing risks posed by the drying Sea. 

With the looming 2017 QSA deadline, there is a renewed sense of urgency for restoration projects at the Salton Sea. In the last five months two restoration plans have been proposed and one project broke ground. The Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI) was proposed in July by the Imperial Irrigation District and Imperial County, the SSWIFT concept was proposed in September by the SSA, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Red Hill Bay species conservation habitat broke ground in November. The SSA plans to use the SSRREI and SSWIFT plans as the basis for a new Salton Sea Preferred Plan to propose to the Natural Resources Agency upon the passing of legislature AB 1095, which will require a completed project and cost analysis of shovel-ready Salton Sea projects by March 31, 2016. [1] In the past, inaction was largely a result of too many stakeholders and none that were willing to bear the full financial burden, but this time around the attitude is different; these three agencies are working together to save the Sea, and as swiftly as possible.

Written by Melissa Morgan

This article has been edited to better maintain the SaltonSeaSense authors’ efforts to remain unbiased in our publications as of 11:10am on December 11, 2015, and to reflect John Benoit’s correct current position of District Supervisor for Riverside County as of 8:00am on January 17, 2016.


 

[1] Salton Sea Authority. (2015, September 24) Salton Sea Authority Board of Directors Meeting Minutes. El Centro, CA.

[2] SSWIFT Concept Restoration for the Salton Sea; Salton Sea Authority, September 2015.

[3] Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative; Imperial Irrigation District, July 2015.