NEWS WORTH NOTING: DWR launching Salton Sea habitat enhancement project; Colorado River Delta report provides restoration road map

DWR Launching Salton Sea Habitat Enhancement Project

Accepting Submissions of Qualifications for Construction

From the Department of Water Resources:

In a key step toward stemming one of the state’s most significant public health and ecological challenges, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a large-scale, multimillion-dollar project at the southern end of the Salton Sea. The 3,770-acre Species Conservation Habitat (SCH) project will suppress hazardous dust contributing to human health issues while creating habitat for endangered migratory birds at the fast-receding sea.

The project is aimed at preventing further degradation of air quality and habitat and will anchor phase one of the state’s Salton Sea Management Program, which focuses on constructing wetlands and other projects to reduce exposed lakebed and health hazards posed by airborne dust over 50,000 acres of playa.

“The release of this RFQ marks a significant milestone in the state’s commitment to the future of the Salton Sea. Future milestones will be achieved only with active and collaborative engagement from our local agency partners,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “This is an exciting, first-of-its-kind project to improve air quality and benefit local communities, while also providing habitat to migratory birds of the Pacific Flyway. We are committed to working closely with our partners and other stakeholders to ensure the successful and timely construction of this project, and we expect their commitment and effort to match our own.”

Through the RFQ, DWR seeks to establish a partnership with a design-build construction firm with the resources, expertise, and vision to help advance the SCH project, one of several developed with state and local partners as part of the Salton Sea Management Program’s 10-year first phase.  Once the Imperial Irrigation District agrees to execute an easement for access to the land, DWR will issue a request for proposals for the project as early as July 2019. The state is prepared to commit up to $190 million for the project if Imperial Irrigation District is prepared to provide access.

“The release of the RFQ is an important step for the state toward fulfilling its commitments to the Salton Sea,” said Bruce Wilcox, California Natural Resources Agency Assistant Secretary for Salton Sea Policy. “We’re confident we’ll receive some innovative and exciting responses to the RFQ to move forward with improving habitat and air quality.”

The SCH project area spans part of the New River, a tributary to the Salton Sea, and is located about eight miles northeast of the town of Westmorland in Imperial County.

Responses to the RFQ must be submitted by 5 p.m. April 15. The RFQ and more information about this opportunity can be found on the DWR website at water.ca.gov/Programs/Engineering-And-Construction/Design-Build-Contracting.

The Salton Sea is a desert lake that extends from the Coachella Valley into the Imperial Valley. It is 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. Though saltier than the ocean, the Sea supports an abundance of fish, a food source for millions of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. Over the last several decades, water levels at the Salton Sea have declined and salinity concentrations have increased. In May 2015, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. created the Salton Sea Task Force and directed agencies to develop a comprehensive management plan for the sea. SCH is the first step along the path to improve conditions around the Salton Sea.

Colorado River Delta Report Provides Restoration Road Map

From the University of Arizona:

Four growing seasons after the engineered spring flood of the Colorado River Delta in March 2014, the delta’s birds, plants and groundwater continue to benefit, according to a report prepared for the International Boundary and Water Commission by a binational University of Arizona-led team.

The report “Minute 319 Colorado River Limitrophe and Delta Environmental Flows Monitoring Final Report” was released today by the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission Jayne Harkins at the Colorado River Water Users’ Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

“This report provides solid scientific information about our restoration efforts. The findings will help us apply environmental water more effectively in the future,” Harkins said.

Karl W. Flessa, UA professor of geosciences and co-chief scientist of the Minute 319 monitoring team, said, “We learned that a little bit of water, in the right places, does a lot of environmental good. The report is really a road map for restoration in the delta.”

The report documents the effects of the environmental flows in the delta from the initial release of a pulse of water from March 23 through May 18, 2014, plus subsequent supplemental deliveries of water through December 2017.

The 2014 pulse flow delivered a fraction of the water the pre-1960 spring floods delivered. People from the Sonoran Institute and Pronatura Noroeste cleared two areas of non-native vegetation beforehand. Restauremos el Colorado has since cleared a third site.

The restoration teams hoped reducing competition would allow native plants such as willows and cottonwoods to germinate and grow after the pulse flow.

The teams planted more than 275,000 willows, cottonwoods, mesquite and palo verde trees in three actively managed restoration sites that total 915 acres (370 hectares). Survival rates for the trees range from 75 to 95 percent. Some of the trees are now more than 14 feet (4.2 meters) tall.

“The restoration teams from the Sonoran Institute, Pronatura Noroeste and Restauremos el Colorado are applying what we’ve learned to locate and prepare restoration sites, plant native trees and deliver just the right amount of water at just the right times,” Flessa said.

The diversity and abundance of birds of special conservation concern increased after the pulse flow and remain high in the restoration sites, the researchers write in the report.

In addition, the researchers found the pulse flow recharged groundwater in the delta and showed it was possible to reconnect the Colorado with the Gulf of California.

“The people living in the riverside communities celebrated when the pulse flow briefly restored water to their river,” Flessa said. “Kids splashed in the water, a brass band played under the San Luis Rio Colorado bridge and people picnicked on the riverbank.”

Flessa, Eloise Kendy of The Nature Conservancy, Karen Schlatter of the Sonoran Institute and J. Eliana Rodríguez-Burgueño of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California compiled and edited the “Minute 319 Colorado River Limitrophe and Delta Environmental Flows Monitoring Final Report” on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Minute 319 is the 2012 addition to the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty that authorized environmental flows of water into the Colorado River Delta from 2013 to 2017.

The Minute 319 monitoring team included 39 scientists from universities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations from both Mexico and the U.S., including El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Ensenada-based Pronatura Noroeste, Restauremos el Colorado, the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Tucson-based Sonoran Institute, the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Other UA members of the monitoring team are the late Ed Glenn of the UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, and Martha Gomez-Sapiens and Hector Zamora of the UA Department of Geosciences.

The International Boundary and Water Commission in El Paso, Texas, funded the UA portion of the Minute 319 monitoring program.

The International Boundary and Water Commission and its partners continue with their restoration efforts under Minute 323, an agreement covering a nine-year period through 2026. Minute 323 provides for at least 210,000 acre-feet of water for environmental purposes, $9 million for scientific research and monitoring, and $9 million for restoration projects. The UA’s Flessa is the lead scientist for the science and monitoring effort.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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