Rescue the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project
Rescue the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project
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 Federal match funding. Staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service constructed nearly all of the earthwork berms 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 April 16th 2021 the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD) Hearing Board approved an Order for Abatement issued to the 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 required 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 were 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 Project area by October 31, 2022, and apply gravel BACM to a 50 acre geothermal access corridor by the same date in 2022.
IID refused to comply with the Order for Abatement and instead bulldozed berms built for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project to clear the way for IID's 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 roughly $2 million dollars of State and Federal money to build. Earlier IID had 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.
Talks between IID and the ICAPCD are still tied up in litigation by attorneys collecting fees. IID already bulldozed berms built with State and Federal tax funds for the aquatic habitat project. IID plans to plow furrows in the remainder of the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project land this Fall, effectively destroying Red Hill Bay as an aquatic habitat project and replacing it with the unproven experimental dust mitigation favored by IID for their financial benefit.
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. It is urgent to restore wetlands at Red Hill Bay to protect air quality, declining bird habitat, and the endangered desert pupfish population at the Salton Sea. We demand the IID Board of Directors immediately approve sale of the Red Hill Bay project land to US Fish & Wildlife Service so they can complete the project with the $3.3 million in State grant funding already approved but soon to expire. IID can retain the subsurface mineral and geothermal rights to make money off the lithium and geothermal development. Land sale will remove IID from potential liability and further legal costs at ratepayer expense. More importantly, land sale and completion of the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project will fully protect the public health from blowing dust while restoring a portion of the Salton Sea ecosystem that is being destroyed by the water transfers implemented by IID.