EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors declared in a formal letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, proclaiming a local emergency for air pollution at the Salton Sea in early November. Governor Newsom sent his official response Monday, January 6.
In response, Governor Newsom identified projects that are underway, and actions taken by state agencies to resolve issues surrounding the Salton Sea. The National Institute of Health has funded a current study to determine the health effects of childhood exposure to particulate matter.
The letter reads, “Our agencies agree that the receding Salton Sea poses an urgent public health challenge for communities surrounding the Sea that already suffer from poor air quality. We are actively discussing with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (State OES) the possibility of securing hazard mitigation funding for the County’s resource and equipment needs and encourage you to continue your dialogue with the State OES.”
According to the letter, Governor Newsom’s proposed 2020-21 budget adds $220 million for the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP). The State’s total financial commitment to improving conditions at the Salton Sea will be $891 million after the additional $220 million.
The State started the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is federally required for the environmental planning process for the construction of 30,000 acres of dust suppression and habitat projects around the Salton Sea outlined by the 10-year SSMP, according to the Newsom’s letter. These projects are expected to begin in coming months.
“State agencies have worked with the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) to move beyond years of stalled progress on complete site access and water supply agreements that allow for the 3,770-acre Species Conservation Habitat (SCH) project at the southern end of the Sea to move forward,” as stated in the letter.
Projects for dust mitigation will be completed in coming weeks, according to the letter. The project involves tilling to create furrows on the surface of exposed playa, spanning 150 to 200 acres. Dust and soil particles from upwind sources will be trapped through this project. Agencies are developing a Dust Suppression Act Plan to bring together local, state, and federal partners for a three-year commitment to dust suppression projects.
The letter explains other factors responsible for the current air quality concerns, including soot from Mexico, unmitigated dirt roads and open lots, agricultural burning, wind-driven emissions of particulate matter from the dunes west of the Sea, and particulate matter from diesel trucks. These other factors are being addressed by the State.
The California Environmental Protection Agency is coordinating with the federal government and Mexico to reduce the impacts of pollution travelling across the border. The California Air Resources Board is working with transportation agencies to reduce pollution from diesel trucks, according to the letter.
In addition, state agencies provided $270,000 in grant funding to the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District and IID to measure dirt soil emissivity and the levels of toxic metals in windblown playa dust, designed the Salton Sea shoreline air monitoring network with six IID operated sites, and designed a Compliance Monitoring Plan for the California Department of Water Resources to construct projects for playa dust control.
The Governor’s closing remarks in his letter say, “Significant work is underway to address the concerns outlined in your letter, and more will be done in the future. The State intends to remain an active and committed partner with Imperial County and other local and federal agencies in addressing Salton Sea-related air quality challenges.”
County Supervisor Ryan Kelley stressed the importance of maintaining a dialogue with Governor Newsom regarding the Sea and other Imperial County issues.