SALTON SEA — During a press conference held Nov. 3 at the Salton Sea, California Assemblymembers Eduardo Garcia and Cristina Garcia spoke on the national and regional impacts the sea is having on local ecosystems regarding wildlife and air quality, and explored potential plans for the future of the sea.
“For many years, the Natural Resource Agency has struggled to find a path for the Salton Sea, because it was an issue in a valley that really didn’t have a huge constituency throughout the state,” shared Assistant Secretary of the Natural Resource Agency Keali’i Bright. “We came in with this administration and have worked to put programs together with efforts to bring water back to the dry land, prevent us from flowing from that dry land, and provide habitat for the wildlife.”
Altogether, California has 454,000 acres of existing wetlands, according to officials. The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, which spans over 218,000 acres and providing habitats for over 424 different bird species.
According to the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, the Salton Sea has more bird species documented than any other wildlife refuge across the nation.
“The salinity is increasing and now we are at about 60 parts per thousand,” explained Salton Sea National Wildlife Representative Chris Schoneman. “Starting last year, we noticed certain bird species not showing up at all or in really low numbers, and at the same time, we’ve seen more fish washing up ashore. We used to have Brown Pelicans counting at 8,000 to 10,000 in the summer, now we get only about 2,000. Certain fish species, such as tilapia, are down about 10 percent from where they were 10 years ago.”
Aside from the potential wildlife repercussions, the other major issue surrounding the Salton Sea are the water transfers and restoration efforts.
“We now find ourselves in 2017; water transfers happening this year, and now there is a huge sense of urgency,” said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). “Getting $80 million, a year and a half ago, wasn’t a simple thing to do.”
This year, through a Park Bond, constituents agreed to support an allocation of $200 million in the park bond for the Salton Sea Management Plan.
“Along with those $200 million, there is a section that is made up of $225 million to address other state water settlement agreements that we believe could potentially be money eligible for Salton Sea Management Plan implementation, if those other things don’t fall into place,” continued Garcia. “My goal when we get into the budget conversation in January, is that I’m gonna ask for some money for the implementation for today.”
According to Assemblyman Garcia, geothermal base load energy could potentially play a role in California meeting its renewable energy goals.
“When Eddie starts to talk about the victory with the park bond and with the $80 million, the problem here is large,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).
“It’s not about a one-time victory, it’s about continuous work,” she said. “And these are going to be expensive pieces. I don’t know what that means for dollars, because I do worry about the same things. You (Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia) just got $280 million in AB 617, so why are you going to come back and put your hand out next year?”
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia reminded the local and visiting dignitaries on the Salton Sea playa trip about the root of the collective effort.
“I think it’s about equity and making sure that we don’t leave these communities behind anymore,” she said. “Moving forward, I hope we remember that the big issue here is the immediate crisis in front of us. And right now, the immediate crisis is that we just need to have water in here, because we need to worry about the clean air or lack of clean air issues and what it’s doing to our health right now.”
“We hope that as we work with each other, we can compromise and be pragmatic along the way, because sometimes, when we’re looking at the long-term issues, we forget about the immediate needs right here,” she continued. “And in the meantime, we have real people in real time who are really sick and whose extended exposure to this stuff is only making it worse and worse,” closed Assemblymember Cristina Garcia.