Salton Sea bill stalled in committee

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Roger Shintaku, Executive Director of the Salton Sea Authority
Roger Shintaku, Executive Director of the Salton Sea Authority

SACRAMENTO – A bill designating the Salton Sea Authority as the lead agency for preserving the shrinking sea stalled on Tuesday in a state legislative committee.

State Assemblyman Brian Nestande proposed the bill saying it would grant the local agency greater authority and also provide it with millions of dollars in raised following voters’ approval of Proposition 84 of 2006.

The bill, AB 709, says that about $47 million of that money is available to be deposited into a Salton Sea Restoration Fund. The measure would channel those funds to the Salton Sea Authority following its submission of a plan to the state Legislative Analyst.

Tom Kirk, executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, supported the bill during the hearing in Sacramento. “We want the money to be put to the Salton Sea,” he said.

But the bill didn’t secure the necessary votes for approval in the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.

Nestande said he will keep on the measure to bring it up for consideration again.

“The state is holding about $50 million that was intended for the restoration of the Salton Sea, and we have been doing studies and studies, and going back and forth for years,” the Palm Desert Republican said. “I believe it’s time to give that money to a local authority, the Salton Sea Authority, and allow them to move forward on the project that they consider appropriate.”

The Salton Sea Authority is led by a board made up of representatives of various local entities.

The Salton Sea has been shrinking in recent years as agricultural runoff has diminished, and water levels are expected to fall more swiftly starting in 2017, when water transfers will further reduce runoff from Imperial County farms.

Nestande also has proposed to create special Salton Sea license plates to raise money, and that bill was approved this week by the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Projects that are currently planned or under consideration for the Salton Sea involve building dikes or berms to help preserve the shoreline and building wetlands by re-flooding some areas along the shore. Officials have also discussed possibilities for piping in water from other areas to help sustain the lake.

Nestande said it’s important for more money to be provided to the Salton Sea Authority soon so that it can make progress.

“Obviously I wanted to get this bill passed, but I’m just going to keep the pressure on,” Nestande said. “Every day that we’re not doing something is ensuring a bigger problem, and a more costly problem.”