California names someone to solve the Salton Sea mess

Imperial County 2014 land cover, via Cropscape

Imperial County 2014 land cover, via Cropscape

Just when I think I’ve got the Colorado River Basin’s problems all sorted out, I keep bumping up against this crazy Salton Sea thing.

This USDA Cropscape landcover map really nicely illustrates the geography of the thing. The brightly colored bits are the irrigated agriculture of the Imperial Irrigation District. Agricultural runoff flows to the northwest, into the Salton Sea, which occupies a sink, below sea level.

When inflow equals evaporation, the level of the sea is stable. If we succeed at conserving water, as we all agree needs to happen, the sea shrinks, exposing a dry lakebed and leading to all manner of bad things (air pollution, asthma) that disproportionately impact the relatively low income people who live around the sea, and also the affluent folks out in the palmy golf coursey hip music festivally communities of Coachella and Palm Springs to the west.

So, to sum up, solving the region’s water problems could wreak environmental havoc.

In 2003, the state of California as part of the tangle known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement promised cross my heart and hope to die to deal with the environmental piece if only the farm water managers would go ahead and do the water conservation. The state has thus far done pretty much doodley squat, which understandably makes the folks in Imperial, who have been keeping up their end of the conservation deal, unhappy.

This is a too-long introduction to today’s news, from Sammy Roth at the Desert Sun, that the state has appointed a Salton Sea czar with some Imperial roots and Salton Sea qualifications to try to right the governance ship:

Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday he has named Bruce Wilcox assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, a newly created position within California’s Natural Resources Agency. Wilcox currently oversees Salton Sea-related projects as the Imperial Irrigation District’s environmental manager.

Wilcox will coordinate the many local, state and federal agencies working to limit the public health and ecological disasters brewing in California’s largest lake. Similar appointments have helped the state address other complex, stubborn problems, said Keali’i Bright, deputy secretary for legislation at the Natural Resources Agency.