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The Salton Sea Solution


By Marion Ashley
Board Chairman, Salton Sea Authority
To The Desert Independent

September 14, 2012

SALTON SEA, Calif – Foul odors emanating from the Salton Sea across the Inland Empire and Los Angeles area early this week serve as a pungent reminder of the State's dereliction of duty toward this troubled ecosystem.

This is nothing, folks. As the Sea recedes, plagues of powdery air-born dust are destined to descend upon the residents of Southern California, choking people, pets and plant life.

Local leaders of Imperial and Riverside County have banded together with environmental groups and business interests to help prevent this from happening. While the solutions will require capital investment and ongoing expense, doing nothing is the most costly of all options.

Locals are convinced there is tremendous hope for restoring the Sea. Enormous new economic development opportunities in renewable energy -- from geothermal to solar, and biofuel -- at the Sea offer a firm path toward a more prosperous regional economy equipped with the financial means to accomplish long term, sustainable ecosystem stabilization. Mineral resources including lithium in the briny groundwater beneath the Sea alone are estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

In short, the resources appear to be in hand, the locals are united and willing to forge ahead with a new plan. They just need cooperation and support instead of neglect and exploitation from the state and federal government.

Instead of pitching in to help the locals, the State remains intransigent. Meanwhile, public health and safety risks continue to grow as the receding Salton Sea shoreline imperils the environmental and economic health of the region.

Water evaporates from the 365 square mile Sea faster than irrigation runoff can replenish it. The powder-dry shoreline of the Sea is expanding, leaving dusty shoreline in its wake instead of wetland habitat for the largest migratory waterfowl populations in North America outside of the Everglades.

The demise of the Salton Sea ecosystem has been a concern for decades. In the early 2000s, it became a central issue in the negotiations regarding the allocation of California water rights in the Colorado River and water transfers to meet growing urban demand, a series of agreements that are known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA. As the water transfers will exacerbate the decline of the Salton Sea, in the QSA and implementing legislation, the State promised to mitigate the impacts of water transfers and more broadly restore the Salton Sea ecosystem.

Local water districts lived up to their end of the bargain, committing 133 million dollars for mitigation, plus contributing an additional 30 million dollars to the Salton Sea Restoration Fund.

 In 2003, the QSA legislation directed the Resource Agency to develop a restoration strategy and funding plan. Four years and 20 million dollars later, Resources presented a plan estimated to cost 9 billion dollars. To this day, no funding plan has been proposed.

The legislature failed to act on the Resources’ plan and instead formed a Salton Sea Restoration Council to generate an actionable plan. The council never met, and in the current budget cycle, the legislation empowering the Restoration Council was repealed.

This year, the governor rejected a concerted effort to build a partnership that’s been missing between the State and the Salton Sea Authority, a joint powers agency of local governments. The legislation requested 2 million dollars for the Authority to fund a restoration action plan, and deliver on the State’s commitment to identify a restoration funding plan. If funded, the action plan anticipated relying largely on local resources.

To their credit, legislators included the 2 million dollars for the action plan in the budget sent to Governor Brown. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the two million dollar allocation. Just two week ago the Senate allowed the Sea governance legislation to die in committee.

At this point, the Sea is receding, the ecosystem is dying, and the air is becoming increasingly noxious. In spite of these growing problems, the State refuses to lead the restoration planning effort or yield the lead to the local authorities that are committed to developing a feasible action plan. And the millions that were contributed by local water agencies to fund the restoration planning effort sit idly in state accounts.

 It is time for the state to step aside, and yield the reins to the Salton Sea Authority, the local entity that is committed to resolving this issue of critical concern to all who hope to breathe freely in a healthy environment and strong economy.



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