EL CENTRO — The Imperial County board of supervisors approved a proclamation of the existence of a local emergency in Imperial County for air pollution at the Salton Sea at their regularly scheduled meeting, Tuesday, October 22.
Air Pollution Control Officer Matt Dessert presented the board with two letters that were sent to the State Water Resources Control Board, outlining the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District’s (ICAPCD) disappointment in the lack of progress in mitigating air quality impacts coming from the Salton Sea.
Construction for the Red Hill Bay Project began in 2016 and has made minimal progress toward completion, according to Dessert. The lack of completion of the project has caused more emission than any other area on the playa. The soil was disturbed on the project footprint, leading to higher emissions.
By the end of 2018, playa exposure increased by 8% while emissions increased by 41%, according to Dessert.
“The lack of project completion due to permitting is unacceptable. The challenges in regards to permitting and easements is an unacceptable reason to have a lack of progress on all Salton Sea management plan projects,” said Dessert. “The state of California should be working closely with all agencies to get the permitting fast tracked and completed.”
According to Dessert, the letters were sent in March and June this year, neither of which have received a verbal, written, or in-person response. Dessert explained that while the letters go unanswered, the playa is becoming more exposed, air quality is getting worse, and habitat value is being degraded at the Salton Sea.
“The time is now. It is time for this to be recognized as a local emergency and we strongly urge the State Water Resources Control Board to carefully consider our comments,” said Dessert.
According to Dessert, success at the Salton Sea depends on meeting yearly milestones required in the stipulated water board order. Dessert explained IID’s efforts in implementing air quality projects using surface roughening and vegetation enhancement on the exposed playa, saying IID has proven implementation of the projects can be done quickly and efficiently.
IID has successfully implemented approximately 1,200 total acres, with each project averaging 250 acres. According to Dessert, this proves the air quality milestone of 250 acres could have been achieved; he questioned why it wasn’t.
However, IID and the state of California are now at an impasse due to legal issues. Dessert claims only IID and the state understand what legal issues are causing the halt.
The board of supervisors unanimously voted to approve the proclamation, agreeing with Dessert on the importance and urgency of resolving these prolonged environmental issues. Supervisor Ryan Kelley shared his concern about compromising the community’s health due to the state seemingly ignoring the environmental catastrophe.