QSA Joint Powers Authority fails to pass budget because of Salton Sea mitigation dollars

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SaltonSea-Playa
Exposed playa at the Salton Sea

EL CENTRO – The Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) Joint Powers Authority (JPA) failed to pass a 2016 budget at their recent meeting of May 20, 2015.

The JPA consists of representitives, or Commissioners, from the San Diego Water Authority (SDWA), the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID).

IID General Manager Kevin Kelley is the IID Commissioner for the JPA.

For the past 12 years, IID Environmentalist Bruce Wilcox has submitted the budget for the JPA. This is the first time a proposed mitigation budget for the Salton Sea has not been passed.

The JPA has funded the creation and delivery of 450,000 acre-feet of fallowed water to the Salton Sea since 2003. The IID has discovered that the QSA water transfers are linked to some of the unanticipated elevation drop of the Salton Sea. New studies have found this will bring air quality issues to the surrounding areas, according to Kelley.

IID General Manager Kevin Kelley sent a letter to the JPA Commissioners expressing his concern over the unmitigated impacts of the water transfers on the local environment and residents in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.

“The proposed JPA budget contained a $580,000 line item for mitigation of exposed playa at the Salton Sea attributed to the water transfers,” said Kelley. “This line item was removed from the budget. It is only 2% of the total budget. It is half of what the IID has allocated to the mitigation of the Salton Sea, which is unrelated to the QSA. As your Commissioner to the JPA, I objected to its removal. The item was removed prior to the meeting. I asked that it be restored. It was not. I let the JPA know that if the item were not restored for action, the IID would be voting no on the budget. The item was restored, seconded, and passed. The motion to approve the budget failed to get a second.”

San Diego and Coachella Water Districts voted for the budget, with the state and IID voting against.

The state voted against the budget, claiming a budget cannot be passed without its affirmative vote.

There was a motion by the San Diego Water Authority to remove all area impact mitigation, the $580,000 line item and the $1.6 million in ongoing mitigation for air quality impacts, according to Kelley.

“I intend to vote against this budget if it does not contain the line item in question that has to do with impacts on the Salton Sea caused by the water transfers,” said Kelley. “I fully expect that a budget will be passed soon.”

The board weighed in with their comments.

“If the state doesn’t step up to their mitigation obligations, they are getting into the area of a breach,” said Director Bruce Kuhn.

“When you move beyond the current dispute of whether or not they have an approved budget,” said Kelley, “there are broader implications, not only for the JPA, but the QSA and for the water transfer in which they depend. The action by the JPA last week, especially the two other water agencies, the San Diego Water District and the Coachella Valley Water District, were entirely consistent with the remarks that each of them delivered at the State Board San Ysidro workshop in which they placed continued inexpensive water over the legitimate public health concerns raised by the IID Board in Imperial County.”

“The San Diego Water Authority and Coachella Valley Water District are taking overt actions to not acknowledge these health consequences of the Salton Sea,” said Director Matt Dessert. “They have hijacked this simple activity of a good faith budget for the JPA that all of the QSA partners have paid into and stopping with incremental success to go to a larger project of environmental concern for human health and air emissions at the Salton Sea. It is a big message they are sending. It is dangerous.”

“I urge all JPA Commissioners to consider the ramifications of their respective positions with regard to mitigation funding and implementation requirements,” said Kelley in his letter to the JPA Commissioners. “The IID will support nothing less than the QSA it authorized in 2003, which includes full mitigation of all impacts caused by the conservation and transfer agreements.”

The IID Board voted to have Mr. Kelley continue pressing for the budget they approved.