The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, provides essential habitat for several fish and wildlife species and is an important cultural and recreational resource. It has no outlet, and dissolved salts contained in the inflows concentrate in the Salton Sea through evaporation. The salinity of the Salton Sea, which is currently nearly one and a half times the salinity of ocean water, has been increasing as a result of evaporative processes and low freshwater inputs. Further reductions in inflows from water conservation, recycling, and transfers will lower the level of the Salton Sea and accelerate the rate of salinity increases, reduce the suitability of fish and wildlife habitat, and affect air quality by exposing lakebed playa that could generate dust.
Legislation enacted in 2003 to implement the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) stated the Legislature’s intent for the State of California to undertake the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem. As required by the legislation, the California Resources Agency (now California Natural Resources Agency) produced the Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Study and final Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR; California Resources Agency, 2007) with the stated purpose to “develop a preferred alternative by exploring alternative ways to restore important ecological functions of the Salton Sea that have existed for about 100 years.” A decision regarding a preferred alternative currently resides with the California State Legislature (Legislature), which has yet to take action.
As part of efforts to identify an ecosystem restoration program for the Salton Sea, and in anticipation of direction from the Legislature, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established a team to develop a monitoring and assessment plan (MAP). This plan is the product of that effort.
The goal of the MAP is to provide a guide for data collection, analysis, management, and reporting to inform management actions for the Salton Sea ecosystem. Monitoring activities are directed at species and habitats that could be affected by or drive future restoration activities. The MAP is not intended to be a prescriptive document. Rather, it is envisioned to be a flexible, program-level guide that articulates high-level goals and objectives, and establishes broad sideboards within which future project-level investigations and studies will be evaluated and authorized. As such, the MAP, by design, does not, for example, include detailed protocols describing how investigations will be implemented. It is anticipated that detailed study proposals will be prepared as part of an implementation plan that will include such things as specific sampling objectives, sampling schemes, and statistical and spatial limits.