Save our Red Hill Bay Restoration Project at the Salton Sea

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In November 2015 a groundbreaking ceremony was held jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project. The Project was designed to restore marine aquatic habitat to an area of a little over 500 acres of Salton Sea lakebed that became exposed after the IID agreed to sell large amounts of Colorado River water to San Diego, the Coachella Valley, and the greater Los Angeles area in a series of water transfer agreements, which caused the Salton Sea to recede. The Red Hill Bay Restoration Project received $1.2 million in State funding at the time with a similar amount in offered Federal match funding. Staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have constructed nearly all of the required earthwork berms to needed to hold water within the over 500 acre Project footprint. IID took responsibility to construct the water infrastructure, pumps, and power supply needed for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project in 2016, then obtained $3.3 million in California Wildlife Conservation Board funds to do it, but later refused to do the work. IID also refused to grant the 25 year land access needed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use the State funds to complete the work.

In June 2020, the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD issued a Notice of Violation to the IID and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over PM10 dust emissions measured from the open construction area of the unfinished Red Hill Bay Restoration Project. On December 18th 2020 a Public Hearing was held by the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD) to consider the issuance of an order for abatement or stipulated order for abatement to the Imperial Irrigation District to establish requirements for IID to comply with Air District Rules 401, 801 and 804 at the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project site located on the shores of the Salton Sea.

The Order for Abatement would require the IID to apply EPA approved Best Available Control Measures (BACM) appropriate for the location and known by past use to be 99% to 100% effective at eliminating PM10 dust from blowing off the surface of exposed lakebed like that at the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project construction area. PM10 is fine particle dust from exposed lakebed or other sediment that causes lung diseases including asthma and lung cancer, already a critical lung health problem in Imperial County on top of Covid-19. The measures specified in the Order for Abatement would be to maintain in perpetuity 60 acres of existing wetland on the Project site supported now by agricultural drain water from the IID system, install power and pumps to implement shallow flooding BACM on 160 acres of Red Hill Bay Project area by October 31, 2021, extend shallow flooding BACM to a total of 450 acres of Red Hill Bay Project area by October 31, 2022, and apply gravel BACM to a 50 acre geothermal access corridor by the same date in 2022.

In the opening argument by the IID attorney on December 18th 2020, it was made clear the IID intends to dispute the Order for Abatement and instead pressure the ICAPCD Hearing Board to accept a low cost alternative called “surface roughening” that IID had proposed in March 2020 as a replacement for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project. Surface roughening relies on plowing furrows into the open ground to reduce the wind speed at the ground level and capture sand blowing across the surface. It is not an EPA approved BACM and has not been proven to be 99% effective at controlling PM10 dust. Because it relies on cutting deep furrows into the ground that was designed to be a shallow aquatic habitat, surface roughening of the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project construction area will destroy the aquatic habitat project that has taken five years and well over $2 million dollars of State and Federal money to build to a point of near completion of the earthworks. A couple months ago IID destroyed most of the piping laid out for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project to make way for surface roughing immediately west of the Project.

We the residents of Imperial County, the State of California, and the United States demand that our health, our environment, and our State and Federal tax funds be respected by the following measures that should be the minimum required by the ICAPCD:

1.      Require that any dust control measures applied to the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project footprint area shall not obstruct or make infeasible the eventual completion of the Project as planned.

2.      Require that any dust control measures applied to the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project footprint area shall meet already EPA approved BACM for PM10 dust.

3.      Deny the proposal by the IID to apply surface roughening, vegetated or desiccated, to the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project footprint area.