California Senate moves Salton Sea help closer to November 2018 ballot

The Red Hill Marina used to allow boats to be unloaded into the Salton Sea. Now, the exposed playa has pushed the edge of the water far beyond the loading area. Photo by Brett Miller.

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Salton Sea Management 10-year plan moved closer to realization when the California senate, by a 3-1 margin, voted overwhelmingly to support the bill sponsored by Senator Ben Hueso and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.

The Salton Sea Authority released a press release immediately following the vote.

According to the release, the passage is only one of three branches that must give consent before the voters consider the Salton Sea Obligations Act on the November 2018 ballot. Voter approval would authorize a $500 million state general obligation bond to fund the state’s 10-Year plan.

The Sea has begun its environmentally- devastating decline and the 10-year plan, if implemented, will be far behind the deterioration, making restoration challenging, according to many experts. The Salton Sea bill is the latest attempt by the State to fulfill their settlement obligations promised after the Imperial Valley signed the Quantitative Settlement Agreement (QSA) in 2003. The QSA is a major regional water rights settlement brokered by the state of California and agreed upon by the Valley on the weight of the State’s promise in 2007 to fund mitigation of the exposed toxic playa.

The major delay is the cost. One plan, the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative proposal, generated in July 2015, estimated the cost at $3.15 billion, according to their website.

The state has budgeted $80.5 million so far to begin designing and building canals and ponds along portions of the shore. Bruce Wilcox,  assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy, a position within California’s Natural Resources Agency, recently said construction will start next year.

Critics to the state’s new strategy complain the plan’s focus is on the next 10 years only and does not include long-term fixes. Wilcox recently said in the Desert Sun that he hopes the plan will just be the beginning and will generate a more far-sighted strategy.

The Salton Sea Authority in their release urged its partner agencies and stakeholders to help build momentum to help the bill pass the legislature and the governor’s desk.

“The Salton Sea Authority applauds the forward-thinking state leaders who understand that taking action now helps to avert compounding devastation from inaction at the Salton Sea,” stated Phil Rosentrater, GM/Executive Director of the SSA in the release. “A ‘Do Nothing” scenario is the costliest of all options, predicted to cause $70 billion in damages to human health, property values, environmental degradation and the connected economies of agriculture and tourism. Conversely, a YES vote for SB 701 provides a positive alternative and a realistic path forward.”

Imperial Irrigation District Board President Bruce Kuhn weighed in on the 10-Year Plan.

“It’s a good start,” said Kuhn. “We are happy that this has been brought forward, but it does not go far enough. It will need some tweaking to make it more effective.”

“The plan lacks specificity, details, and is open ended for the most part,” said IID Director Norma Galindo Sierra. “It’s a start.”