SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state budget Thursday committing $30 million to further study the Salton Sea and actual habitat restoration work. He also line-item vetoed $3 million towards other projects that would have helped the receding shoreline.
The $3 million would have gone towards grants through the Salton Sea Financial Assistance Program, which has provided funding for wetlands along the banks. Experimental wetlands have shown their effectiveness in greatly reducing toxins carried to the sea by both the Alamo and New Rivers.
“While I am supportive of restoration efforts for the sea, the Salton Sea Restoration Fund is limited,” Brown said explaining the veto. “It is essential to reserve funds to implement recommendations based on the funding and feasibility study.”
A $2 million study by the Salton Sea Authority carried out under the auspices of the secretary of natural resources is to analyze alternatives for coping with diminishing flows of water into the Salton Sea.
Another $28.4 million of the budgeted allotment will be used by the Department of Water Resources to restore between 800 to 1,200 acres of habitat for fish and birds. This will be accomplished by building shallow ponds on the lake’s south end.
“We want to have the benefit of the study and its findings and recommendations before we commit the additional dollars,” H.D. Palmer said, spokesman for the Department of Finance.
Al Kalin, who recently spoke in front of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors concerning the Salton Sea, said that enough studies have been done on the problems plaguing the Sea and now was the time for action. He recommended expanding on the myriad of experimental projects that have already proven the benefits in reducing silt and water-born toxins.
However, the $30 million dedicated to the Salton Sea is a marked increase from the previous expenditure of $4 million in the last budget.
The Salton Sea has been shrinking over the years leaving a toxic dry playa around the rim. This playa emits an asthma inducing white powder that disperses with the wind to the valley residents. This dust harms the air quality of the Imperial Valley and the health of the citizens. The Imperial Irrigation District has been compensating the water transfers to the coast with extra water to the sea, however that will stop soon and the sea level then will drop drastically.
The state is responsible for the dust control of the Sea according to the QSA. Confidence is low that the financially strapped state will be able to find the funds for all that the Sea requires.
“The state will be stuck with a huge bill for dust mitigation unless something is done in the very near future, and it’s not clear to me we have enough time anymore,” said Michael Cohen, a senior associate at the Oakland-based Pacific Institute who has studied the Salton Sea’s dilemmas.
Cohen said the governor’s decision to cut funding seems to “mark yet another grim day for the Salton Sea, as the state continues to ‘reserve’ limited funds for undefined future efforts when locals have already demonstrated their willingness to get much-needed projects on the ground, faster and much cheaper than the state.”
The state says it has $17.7 million in a Salton Sea Restoration Fund that can be used for future projects.
“The state has been sitting on this money for many years, and they spend a lot of money on consultants, and they spend a lot of money on staff salaries, and we’re still waiting for the state to actually do something,” Cohen said. “I would argue that we’ve studied this for a long time and time is running out.”
Imperial Irrigation District President Matt Desert commented on the governor’s allotment to the Salton Sea, “This is the first time that the Governor has allowed dedicated money for the Salton Sea in the budget. This is a positive and encouraging sign for all of us interested in and concerned with our region, Imperial Valley and most importantly the Salton Sea.”