WASHINGTON – The House late Thursday approved a spending bill that includes $1 million for Salton Sea restoration.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, successfully sought that money for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which has monitored water quality and analyzed various restoration proposals over the years despite the lack of a comprehensive restoration plan.
Ruiz’s Salton Sea amendment was added to the spending bill, which would pay for the federal government’s energy and water resources programs in fiscal 2015. The Ruiz amendment passed by voice vote on Wednesday, meaning no roll was taken. No one spoke against it.
Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Ruiz warned that the Salton Sea will pose a steadily bigger threat to public health as more of the lake bed is exposed.
“For several decades now, the deteriorating water quality and reduced water inflow have made the Salton Sea a threat,” said Ruiz, an emergency physician by training. “Eventually the sea could threaten public health in cities all across Southern California.”
He urged Democrats and Republicans to vote for his amendment, saying, “The health of the American people must be put above politics.”
The Salton Basin has over the ages been dry at times and filled with water at others. Colorado River flows repeatedly flooded the basin during the 1800s. In its current form, the Salton Sea was created beginning in 1905 when an irrigation channel off the Colorado River was breached and water flooded into the basin. The water kept flowing in until 1907, when engineers put a stop to it.
Since then, the lake has been sustained largely by plentiful runoff from Imperial Valley farms. But that runoff has been decreasing and is set to decline dramatically in the coming years as increasing amounts of water will be transferred to cities in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.
The lake is headed for much quicker declines starting after 2017, when water deliveries will be cut under the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA, the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer deal.
Without the lake facing those accelerated declines in less than four years, many government officials have turned to looking for ways to make a smaller Salton Sea manageable and remedy the expected environmental problems of wafting dust and ecosystems threatened by rising salinity.
Projects are underway to restore habitat along portions of shoreline by constructing wetlands. Officials in the Imperial Valley have also advocated generating money for projects at the Salton Sea by developing more geothermal energy plants near the lake.