by Blake Herzog
PALM DESERT — State Auditor Elaine Howle spoke Friday at a community briefing about an audit by her office of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund released last November, a meeting that turned into the airing of familiar frustrations over the lack of money available to fix problems expected to begin worsening within four years, particularly from the state.
But Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez, D-Coachella, who requested the audit and hosted the meeting at the University of California, Riverside’s Palm Desert campus, said the meeting was still productive.
“I knew the meeting was going to be one of some controversy, of some debate, but I think it’s healthy, I think it’s important to have dialogue from people who have been at the table and people who have not been at the table and were being informed about what the audit does to look at possible solutions,” he said.
Howle said one issue that was dispensed with was whether the fund, a combination of contributions from the Coachella Valley and Imperial Irrigation water districts and the San Diego County Water Authority, along with money from voter-approved Proposition 84 from 2006, was being spent on items unrelated to conserving the sea or its bird and wildlife habitat.
“The good news is we didn’t really find any major issues,” she said.
The audit did find the state hasn’t fully funded a restoration plan or estimated how much it could cost to manage the blowing dust, foul odors and other side effects expected when a water transfer agreement with San Diego County begins diverting water from the Salton Sea in 2017.
The shrinkage will also destroy fish habitats, which will affect bird migration flyways over a broad swath of the western United States.
The $32.1 million the audit said was collected by the fund between 2003 and 2013 was administered by the state Natural Resources Agency, which did not have a representative at the meeting, and was spent mostly by the state Fish and Wildlife and Water Resources agencies on consultants on ways to preserve at least part of the sea.