by Raju Chebium,
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress for an additional $300,000 for Salton Sea restoration for fiscal year 2015, administration officials confirmed Wednesday.
That request is on top of the $200,000 that the White House is seeking in the budget request it sent to Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
If Congress approves, the $300,000 would go to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency within the Interior Department, to continue monitoring water quality at California’s largest inland lake and sharing data with the California Natural Resources Agency, the Salton Sea Authority, other federal agencies and local entities like the Imperial Irrigation District.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Dan DuBray said his agency planned to unveil the $300,000 request next week, along with detailed descriptions of all the projects nationwide for which it is seeking money from Congress.
The Salton Sea funding was not included in budget materials released Tuesday because the Obama administration is still finalizing its spending wish list and decided to wait until that process was complete before unveiling all of its requests, he said.
“There’s certainly thousands upon thousands of programs that may or may not get mentioned” during the initial budget rollout, DuBray said.
Congress approved $300,000 for the reclamation agency’s Salton Sea work for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Lawmakers did not approve the $200,000 request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for this fiscal year, prompting the White House to re-submit it for fiscal 2015.
The Army Corps, an independent agency, told Congress last year it needs the money to review and evaluate the State of California’s Salton Sea restoration plans to see which strategies would work to improve the imperiled lake.
Last week, Reps. Raul Ruiz and Juan Vargas — Democrats whose districts include the Salton Sea — asked President Barack Obama for $1 million to continue preliminary work to eventually restore the Salton Sea, which occupies 376 square miles in Riverside and Imperial counties.
Local, state and federal leaders have made at least 23 attempts to fix the lake’s problems over the past few decades. Though the State of California is the lead agency, it hasn’t signed off on a $9 billion restoration plan unveiled in 2007, which called for dividing the Salton Sea into a recreational lake and marshy marine habitat.
Restoration has taken on greater urgency because the Salton Sea will see sharp declines in the supply of agricultural runoff beginning in 2017 under a plan to divert much of the water to urban areas on the Southern California coast.
A study presented to the Imperial Irrigation District in January estimated that developing geothermal, solar and other renewable-energy sources at Salton Sea could generate more than $4 billion over the next 30 years, with at least half of that paying for restoration work.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Ruiz and Vargas endorsed that approach during the first-ever congressional briefing about the Salton Sea last week.