MECCA, California – On a sunny December day near the shores of the Salton Sea, three agencies signed an agreement to collaborate on ways to aid the ailing lake.
Representatives with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, California Department of Water Resources and the Salton Sea Authority signed a cost-share agreement during a Dec. 16 outdoor ceremony at the North Shore Yacht Club in Mecca.
The agreement launches the “Imperial Streams Salton Sea and Tributaries Feasibility Study,” a $3-million, three-year study aimed at identifying potential ecosystem, flood-risk management or other land- and water-resource projects and actions for the long-term restoration of the sea.
“This is an opportunity to develop viable and innovative solutions, in collaboration with our partners, for the Salton Sea community and its surrounding area,” said Col. Julie Balten, commander of the Corps’ Los Angeles District. “We are excited to sign the agreement as it solidifies our commitment to this community and its people to gather information, define problems and opportunities, and potentially recommend federal restoration projects at the Salton Sea.”
The Salton Sea is facing multiple challenges. With decreased inflow, the lake is shrinking and rising in salinity. As a result, thousands of acres of lakebed are being exposed, and habitat has greatly diminished.
The Corps received funding to initiate and complete the study through the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The agreement allows the Corps and its partners to split the cost of the study and work collaboratively on possible solutions.
“When we talk about the crucial times of investment in our nation’s environment and water resource infrastructure, this study helps us to identify that path forward,” said Brig. Gen. Antoinette Gant, commander of the Corps’ South Pacific Division, which oversees the Corps’ LA District.
The federal funding reflects the administration’s focus and priorities, Gant said, as it targets investments in the nation’s water resources infrastructure, including the restoration of aquatic ecosystems.
“Today’s signing is the culmination of several years of work to bring together federal, state and local resources, at a significant level, to advance the long-term sustainable projects at the sea,” said G. Patrick O’Dowd, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.
In addition to looking at ways to improve public health and the ecosystem of the sea, the study also will build on the Salton Sea Management Program’s Long-Range Plan document, released as a draft for public comment Dec. 15.
The draft Salton Sea Long-Range Plan was developed with support from tribal leadership, community-based organizations and local, state and federal agencies. It organizes public input into a framework that provides a foundation for the feasibility study and associated environmental review process.
“This long-range plan combines the collective guidance from these partners to develop a science-based evaluation framework for potential restoration actions for the sea,” said Cindy Messer, chief deputy director, California Department of Water Resources.
During the feasibility study, the Corps and its partners will evaluate several alternatives to come up with the best solution for the sea.
Gant emphasized the solution is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and that the Corps is here to listen. She also noted with this new study and partnership, there is an opportunity to combat the effects of climate change – not only at a local and regional level, but potentially at a national level.
“With the advancement of technology and design, along with the collaboration and commitment of knowledgeable partners, we have the power to create innovative solutions for our nation’s toughest challenges, and this is definitely one of them,” she said.
First, and foremost, Gant said, this study really is about putting people first.
“It’s about finding the viable solutions to allow us to improve the health, as well as the safety and the environment of those who live here, who work in this area, and the people who will visit the Salton Sea in the future. More importantly, the people who were the ancestors here, who raised their families here … and the future generations. That really is what this study is all about.”