Assemblyman Manuel Pérez Launches “Save Our Sea” Campaign

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A view of the receding shoreline of the Salton Sea that exposes contaminated playa that is then blown through the Imperial Valley with wind storms

(SACRAMENTO) – Today, Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella) announced that he has launched a multi-level campaign to kick start Salton Sea restoration. Pérez described his “Save Our Sea” campaign:

With an issue of this magnitude and complexity, there is obviously no ‘silver bullet’. My hope, though, is that by working together with all stakeholders we will make 2013 the year we get on track to save the Salton Sea. The Save Our Sea campaign takes a multi-level approach. To begin, AB 71 puts forth a consensus governance model that all parties agreed to last year, so we can move forward with restoration decision-making. It also assures funding to conduct a funding feasibility plan which will create a foundation for helping us determine how we pay for the restoration. Next, AB 147 compels state action to plan for the air quality impacts of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). This will be an important tool to ensure the state is both ready and accountable when it comes to the significant air quality impacts due to the water transfers. In addition, AB 148 helps us to think big about tapping the renewable energy potential of the Sea. It creates a grant program for R&D pilot projects to explore the development of renewable and biofuel energy sources at the Sea, which can serve as a source of financing to sustain what will be a long-term restoration. In addition to legislation, I have issued a request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee for a full evaluation of how the Department of Fish & Game and the Department of Water Resources have managed the dollars in the Salton Sea Restoration Fund. We need to get a handle on how much money is in the Fund and how those dollars are being used to ensure the state is upholding its part of the bargain when it comes to restoring the Sea.

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, covering 365 square miles. Located in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of Southern California, the Sea also rests in close proximity to over 400,000 residents and some of the state’s most fertile agricultural land. It also serves as a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route used by over 400 species of birds.

 

The Salton Sea is facing a long-term and costly restoration due to the effects of a receding shoreline, and its deterioration will accelerate rapidly with the implementation of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), the state’s largest rural-to-urban water transfer that will decrease water levels at the Sea dramatically beginning in 2017. In the decades following, it is estimated that up to 100 square miles of dusty lakebed will be exposed, increasing airborne dust of ten microns or less (PM10) by up to 33% in the air basin. The Imperial and Coachella Valleys, which already fail to meet state and federal ambient air quality standards, are likely to experience devastating impacts related to public health, agricultural production, and the environment.

 

In creating the Save Our Sea initiative, Pérez used as a case study the situation facing the Owens Valley. In 1913, a rural-to-urban water transfer brought about the draining of Owens Lake by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Over 100 square miles of lakebed was exposed, creating the single largest known source of fugitive dust in the United States. For decades that region has struggled with its air quality and spent over $1 billion to stem dust pollution, and it is still undertaking a costly mitigation.

AB 71, the Salton Sea Restoration Governance Act, fills the gap created due to the elimination of the Salton Sea Restoration Council in the 2012 Budget Act. It addresses concerns local stakeholders had about the defunct Council by requiring the Natural Resources Agency to work in consultation and coordination with the local Salton Sea Authority (SSA), a local joint powers authority comprised of local governments, water agencies, and tribes. The bill forms a technical advisory group to guide decision making related to the Sea. It also authorizes funding from the Salton Sea Restoration Fund for the SSA to prepare a restoration funding and feasibility study, to be undertaken in consultation with the Resources Agency and the technical advisory group. The approach in this bill won broad consensus among the Salton Sea Authority, local tribes, statewide environmental organizations, and the Resources Agency last year.

AB 147, the Salton Sea Air Pollution Mitigation Act, ensures the state assesses and plans for the significant air quality impacts anticipated for the southern California region due to the implementation of the QSA. The bill requires the preparation of a strategic plan to address air pollution at the Salton Sea, looking at, among other items: the extent of dust pollution to result from the exposed lakebed due to the QSA; the chemicals likely to be present in the dust arising from the Salton Sea given decades of agricultural runoff draining in the Sea; and additional funding mechanisms to pay for mitigation costs including harvesting the renewable energy generating potential of the Salton Sea.

 

AB 148 creates a mechanism to facilitate further development of the Sea’s renewable energy potential. The bill authorizes the Natural Resources Agency, together with the Salton Sea Authority, to establish a Salton Sea Renewable Energy & Biofuel Research and Development Program to meet economic and environmental goals by providing grants to facilitate research and the commercial development of renewable and biofuel energy resources in the Salton Sea basin. Given that the Sea is one of the largest untapped sources of renewable energy in California, the intent is to create a funding stream to mitigate dust pollution and help offset costs associated with the restoration.

 

In addition, Pérez has issued a letter to the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee requesting that an audit be undertaken regarding how the Department of Fish & Game and the Department of Water Resources have managed funds in the Salton Sea Restoration Fund (SSRF). The 2011 Budget Act required the agencies to provide a detailed accounting of expenditures from all SSRF fund sources, including agency staff time. The agencies submitted the report but it lacked the required, detailed information necessary to evaluate how restoration funds have been expended.

 

All three bills have been referred to Assembly Rules Committee, where they are awaiting assignment to the appropriate policy committee. To read the legislation, please visit http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/.