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Imperial Irrigation District Calls for Immediate Action to Stem Salton Sea Decline

Fed up with what it views as California’s inaction on the Salton Sea, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is demanding action be taken to avert an environmen- tal and public health catastrophe at the beleaguered sea. “Action is needed now,” said Kevin

Kelley, IID general manager, in a Nov. 16 press release. “Tere is currently no plan in place with goals and objectives, with enforceable metrics and with actionable timelines. Tese are required because al- ready the [state’s] Salton Sea Task Force’s actions are not keeping pace with the rate of expansion of playa exposure.” Te shallow, briny inland lake in southeastern California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline – threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air quality as dust from the exposed lakebed is whipped by periodic winds.

IID has long been upset by what it sees as little or no action by the state on Salton Sea restoration. Te 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) for the Colorado River outlined how California would stay within its 4.4 million acre-feet annual apportion- ment of Colorado River water through water transfers – including the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban transfer from IID to the San Diego County Water Authority. Currently the sea benefits from a regular flow of runoff from nearby farms in the Imperial Valley where vast tracts of irrigated land grow

a wide assortment of forage crops, fruits and vegetables. Te transfer, however, has reduced the amount of water flowing into the sea. As part of the QSA, the state agreed to pay for restoration to mitigate air quality problems due to the dust from the exposed shoreline of a smaller sea and account for the degradation of wildlife habitat. By the end of 2017, the state-mandat- ed obligation for IID to provide mitiga- tion (makeup) water to the sea will end. Without that water, the sea will diminish faster, exposing more playa at a faster rate. In 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown

created the Salton Sea Task Force and set a short-term goal of creating as many as 12,000 acres of habitat and dust sup- pression projects. Te state has budgeted $80 million in Salton Sea funding, supplementing tens of millions of dollars in previous funding dedicated toward a total of about 1,200 acres of Salton Sea habitat projects that await construction. Additionally, parties to the QSA have paid about $139 million into a fund supporting habitat and dust control projects around the Salton Sea. A $14 million grant awarded to the state Natu- ral Resources Agency in November will help fund construction of approximately 640 acres of wetland habitat. Federal funds for the Salton Sea were included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) just approved by Congress.

10 • Colorado River Project • River Report • Winter 2016-2017

Included is a modification to the autho- rization first passed in the 2007 WRDA for Salton Sea funding that had yet to be appropriated. Tat amount was about $30 million. Nongovernmental organizations tracking the status of the Salton Sea are encouraged by the state’s efforts but are concerned about what will happen to the sea when IID’s mitigation water deliver- ies end. “Despite the demonstration of the beginnings of progress, we remain very concerned that the current rate of progress does not begin to match the rate of change and especially the projected rate of change after the mitigation water delivery obligation expires next year at the Salton Sea,” states a Nov. 15 letter to the State Water Resources Control Board from Audubon California, Defenders of Wildlife, Pacific Institute and Sierra Club California. IID and Imperial County want a

more specific “roadmap” for Salton Sea restoration, one that identifies interim acreages for habitat restoration and/or dust suppression for each year between 2017 and 2025 and provides the neces- sary resources to construct those projects. Failure to adopt such a roadmap would “preclude the district’s ability to partici- pate in Drought Contingency Measures being discussed on the Colorado River,” IID said, pushing for a state plan to be adopted by the end of the year. •

– Gary Pitzer

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