Assemblyman Nestande introduces bill to start Salton Sea restoration

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Salton Sea red rocks

PALM DESERT РAssemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, proposed legislation to aid the ailing Salton Sea. His proposal calls for allocating $50 million to the Salton Sea Authority to oversee restoration projects. Nestande introduced his bill ahead of a hearing in Mecca that hosted representatives from the government and private organizations that are coming together to explore solutions for the receding shoreline.

“The issues surrounding the restoration of the Salton Sea have been going on for far too long,” Nestande said. “State and federal inaction has stymied restoration progress. We need to return control to the Salton Sea Authority as the lead agency so they can move forward.”

AB 709 would require that $50 million in Proposition 84 bond revenue be earmarked for sea improvements and would direct the California Wildlife Conservation Board to apply for matching federal funds in support of restoration.

The Salton Sea Authority would take charge of all projects under Nestande’s bill. Currently, the SSA — composed of officials from Imperial and Riverside counties — acts primarily in an advisory capacity.

“There was a time when the Salton Sea attracted more visitors per year than Yosemite,” Nestande said. “I want to empower the Salton Sea Authority so they can return the area to the recreation and destination site it once was.”

According to the assemblyman, the SSA would have to develop a concrete restoration plan that passes muster with the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, after which funds would be made available.

Nestande’s bill follows several proposals introduced last month by Assemblyman Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, that address funding for a restoration feasibility study and mitigation measures necessary to prevent environmental damage that might result from changes to the sea.

The 365-square-mile body of water — the largest part of which lies in the Imperial County, with the north portion stretching to within a few miles of Thermal — has been plagued with increasing salinity over the last 40 years, to the point that some of the sea’s deeper places are saltier than the ocean.

Water reclamation plans by the approaching QSA, local agencies and Mexico, as well as a reduction of Colorado River supplies, will shrink the sea in the coming years, according to the Salton Sea Authority.