Locals may get to craft Salton Sea restoration

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Salton sea boatSACRAMENTO – A bill that would give local stakeholders greater say in the Salton Sea’s restoration is awaiting endorsement from California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Assembly Bill 71 looks to revive the never-approved restoration proposal by having the local Salton Sea Authority work directly on a plan with the state’s Natural Resources Agency.

It also authorizes those agencies to study “short- and long-term funding opportunities to help determine a financially sustainable restoration project,” according to the office of Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, who authored the bill.

If the bill gets Brown’s signature, the new governance structure would replace the Salton Sea Restoration Council, a state-local partnership that the Legislature endorsed in 2010. The 16-member group never met and never got any funding, so Brown disbanded it in 2012.

Brown has until Oct. 13 to act on the bill.

“The governor has not weighed in on this bill yet and I do not expect we’ll be commenting prior to action from the governor,” his spokesman, Evan Westrup, said Monday in an email to The Desert Sun.

Last year, Pérez, a Democrat representing the Imperial and Coachella valleys, suggested a governance structure similar to the one in AB 71. But it didn’t get his colleagues’ support before the deadline to pass bills, so he reintroduced it. This version earned the backing of several regional and state groups, including the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and Sierra Club California.

It also garnered bipartisan support when it passed the Assembly and Senate, including Assemblyman Brian Nestande, a Palm Desert Republican.

“Our Salton Sea governance proposal ensures local participation in Salton Sea restoration and assures funding for a feasibility study that will help to identify fundable restoration alternatives,” Pérez said in a statement. “This approach won broad consensus among stakeholders last year.”

For years, elected officials and community leaders from Riverside and Imperial counties have urged the state to give them more power in addressing the problems that plague the Salton Sea.

Rising salinity levels have been causing concerns for decades. And in 2017, a massive water transfer will start to dramatically shrink the sea, exposing potentially hazardous lake bed and raising concerns about the future of the fish and wildlife there.

State leaders in 2007 unveiled a $9 billion fix that divides the sea with a dam-like barrier, maintains a recreation lake and creates marshy habitat preserves. The plan was never voted on, and only small pieces of it have been funded since then.