Fact Sheet

Regulatory Program - Salton Sea Management Program Phase I: 10-Year Plan Projects

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District
Published April 20, 2023

Various locations within, along, and adjacent to the Salton Sea in Imperial and Riverside counties, California, within or near the cities or towns of Mecca, Desert Shores, Salton City, Westmorland, Calipatria, and Bombay Beach (Enclosure 1). Waters of the United States that would be affected by project construction activities include the Salton Sea and the New, Alamo, and Whitewater Rivers in addition to adjacent creeks, washes and  agricultural drains.

The sea has been receding for decades. Interstate legal actions and agreements related to water rights have resulted in a reduction of hydrologic inputs into the sea that has substantially hastened the rate of its shoreline recession. The result in many locations is that lands formerly under water have transitioned to exposed lakebed that support the development of freshwater wetlands. Most of the agricultural drains that used to flow directly into the sea now terminate on the exposed lakebed and provide sufficient freshwater hydrologic inputs to support these wetlands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District, Regulatory Division (Corps) is processing a request from the State of California Natural Resources Agency, the Department of Water Resources, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (State Team; a WRDA 214 partner) to establish alternative permitting procedures, specifically Letter of Permission (LOP) procedures, associated with the State’s Salton Sea Management Plan 10-Year Plan. On 22 March 2021, Regulatory Division issued a Special Public Notice announcing the proposal to undertake the process to establish new LOP procedures.

The SSMP 10-Year Plan Project Description/Proposed Action proposes to implement 29,800 acres of habitat restoration and dust suppression projects on lakebed areas that have been, or will be, exposed at the Salton Sea by the year 2028 to comply with a State Water Resources Control Board Order. At least 14,900 acres of projects permitted under the SSMP 10-Year Plan would be aquatic habitat restoration projects that convert exposed lakebed areas either to pond habitat suitable for fish and wildlife, or to wetland habitats. While all the aquatic habitat projects would suppress dust, their primary function would be to provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Dust suppression projects may also have habitat benefits by establishing vegetation or creating freshwater wetlands on exposed areas, but they would be designed primarily to suppress fugitive dust emissions for
improved air quality.

Development of the Corps’ new LOP procedures for the SSMP 10-Year Plan projects will be supported by the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Corps is the lead Federal agency for this complex EA with five Federal cooperating agencies: NRCS, United States Bureau of Reclamation, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Refuge and Environmental), Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Bureau of Land Management.

Regulatory initiated the process to develop a complex EA in Mar 2021. Regulatory circulated the Draft EA and Draft LOP procedures for public review in summer 2022. Regulatory, with the State SSMP Team held a series of public meetings virtually. Preparation of a final EA, including a response to comments is ongoing with planned completion by summer 2023. Regulatory initiated the section 106 National Historic Preservation Act process with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and 27 Indian Tribes and is working on executing a programmatic agreement. FWS prepared a programmatic biological opinion (BO) pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

Completion is prone to schedule slippage due to a variety of factors. The State’s schedule is aggressive, reflecting their urgent need for SSMP 10-Year Plan project implementation. Regulatory acknowledges the complexity of the consultations with tribes and the SHPO and the extensiveness of the public comments are contributing to the delays. Regulatory is looking to the State to help minimize delays related to the SHPO’s review of programmatic agreement documents. Regulatory received a NEPA waiver from the Assistant Secretary of the Army to exceed the NEPA 75-page limit and one-year time limit as they would unduly constrain the team’s ability to explain the complexities of the SSMP 10-Year Plan in a cogent manner; however, another time extension may be required.
Various proposed actions are being considered by the six Federal agencies. The final EA must consider public comment, evaluate alternatives, and assess the potential effects of the actions.

The SSMP 10-Year Plan is a complex program with a high level of interest from State, Federal, and local governmental agencies, as well as from various affected and interested parties, including Federally recognized Tribes, non-governmental organizations, residents of the region’s air basin, and agricultural, geothermal energy, and lithium extraction industry groups.

Regulatory will continue to work with the State SSMP Team to complete the final EA, the consultations, and prepare a decision document.

David Castanon, Chief, Regulatory Division, David.J.Castanon@usace.army.mil
Cori Farrar, Chief, South Coast Branch, Regulatory Division, Corice.J.Farrar@usace.army.mil
Kyle Dahl, Chief, San Diego & Imperial Counties Section, South Coast Branch, Regulatory,
Congressional Interest: Senators Padilla and Butler, Representatives Ruiz (CA-25), Calvert (CA-41), Issa (CA-48)

Congressional Liaison