Last Thursday the NSF WaterSENSE IGERT program, UC Riverside School of Public Policy and Salton Sea Sense had the distinct pleasure of hosting a panel discussion consisting of:

The panelists were able to offer the federal, state, and local perspective on the future of the Salton Sea, and they all expressed a lot of hope and excitement. Wilcox said that in the last 2-3 years, there has been more legislative support for action at the Sea than ever before. He referred to this change in Sacramento as the “Great Awakening” and reiterated that the State of California would uphold the agreements and responsibilities made by the Quantification Settlement Agreement in 2003. The State has agreed to have an adaptive management plan put together by the end of this year.

Wilcox expressed that the Salton Sea now has the attention of policy makers and the general public, so we must capitalize on this opportunity for positive action. Rosentrater added that messaging about the Salton Sea must be shifted away from “doom and gloom”. Rather, a unified plan with a positive outlook on the future must be presented to the public. Rosentrater added that in order to take advantage of the current political and public momentum, the Salton Sea Authority will release a Financial Feasibility Action Plan for the Sea in May, which will focus on protecting public health, restoring avian ecosystems, and restoring value at the Salton Sea. Simon pointed out that the USBR would continue to play a supporting role in future initiatives, including their trust obligation to protect tribal communities’ cultural values and property.

In order to continue improving public perception of the Salton Sea, Rosentrater pointed out the importance of disseminating the science behind real events at the Sea, such as the massive release of hydrogen sulfide in 2012. Along those lines, Simon serves as the Chairperson of the Salton Sea Outreach Committee, and stated that they aim to convey a consistent, accurate message to the public. She encouraged the general public, especially the local population, to bring their ideas to them. Simon believes that so far, local communities have not been kept up to date on changes at the Salton Sea and that their voices have not been heard regarding the future of the region. Her Committee will be working to change this.

Another important theme of the discussion was that action is finally happening at the Salton Sea. This includes the project at Red Hill Bay that serves as a field experiment for future projects, and Wilcox added that the backbone infrastructure for the SSRREI plan is a priority project for the state’s plan because it will provide the water infrastructure for much of the initial habitat ad air quality projects associated with the SSRREI. The state will continue work on the development and evaluation of the perimeter lake project too. A list of the first projects and a preliminary schedule of their implementation will be released by March 31st. These projects are extremely important in managing the short-term impacts of exposed playa. As Wilcox pointed out, this is essentially the last chance to save habitat at the Salton Sea and that must be prioritized. Emissive dust can always be managed, but for a potentially high price. The panel agreed that amongst their respective agencies, they must be prepared to provide necessary resources for small, local projects when they are ready to go. However the State is in the process of developing longer-term solutions that will be incorporated in the adaptive management plan.

 

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Rostentrater, Simon, and Wilcox discuss the future of the Salton Sea at UC Riverside on February 4, 2016.

The panel was moderated by our own Drew Story, who ended by posing the question: “In an ideal world, what will a sustainable and healthy Salton Sea look like 5, 25, or 100 years from now?” Rosentrater envisions a smaller Sea, but still with high economic and ecological value, including recreation access and thriving habitats. Simon envisions a vibrant region that is a world-class leader in renewable energy and technologies, provides high quality wildlife habitat as well as recreational opportunities, attracts retirees moving south, and potentially serves as an outlet for southern California and Arizona urban brine lines. Likewise, Wilcox envisions a Sea with managed and protected ecological resources and mitigated public health risks, and with a role for private sector renewable energy development.

Given the current momentum, it seems like for the first time, in a long time, significant action is being taken at the Salton Sea. So what can you do, as an interested member of the public? Simon, Wilcox, and Rosentrater agree that the most important thing you can do is to participate. The Salton Sea’s challenges are not going away anytime soon, and so we must continue to pursue collaborative, long-term solutions and send a unified message to the State to remind them of our support.

The members of Salton Sea Sense would like to thank the panelists for taking the time to participate in this panel, and for providing valuable insight as they continue to shape the future of the Salton Sea.

A video recording of the panel discussion will be available soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, leave a comment to tell us what you hope a sustainable Salton Sea will look like in the future.

Written by Jaben Richards and Holly Mayton