Salton Sea dust blowing

TOXIC PLAYA DUST blows into surrounding Salton Sea communities as the west winds kick up.

The following are the transcribed remarks that Imperial Valley resident Brooks Hamby delivered at the State Water Resources Control Board meeting in Sacramento on Tuesday. The Board met to review the long-delayed progress on the State of California's Salton Sea Management Plan.

Good morning, my name is Brooks Hamby and I am a lifelong resident of the Imperial Valley.

I want to share with you two dates in time to frame my comments this morning; the first is 2003 and the next is 2019.

In 2003, I was a six-year-old first-grade student at Witter Elementary School in Brawley, California. Gray Davis was then the governor of California here in Sacramento. Later that year, the QSA was signed pledging water transfers from our community to the sprawling coastal plain of Southern California.

These transfers were only agreed to based on the promise that the State of California would “undertake the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem and the permanent protection of the wildlife dependent on that ecosystem."

Much has changed in California in the last 16 years. Sixteen years ago, I was sitting at a small desk in first-grade practicing addition and subtraction, and as of two days ago, I graduated from college. Sixteen years ago, Gray Davis occupied the governor's office, and one recall and three occupants later, one Governor Newsom now does.

And while 16 years ago the Salton Sea hosted over 400 species of birds and wildlife, two-thirds of the birds have gone away, as have 99% of the fish, and now Imperial County ranks as home to the highest childhood asthma hospitalization rate in our state.

Sixteen years should have represented considerable progress toward the California Dream for all Californians. Instead, the past 16 years have represented mostly dreams deferred and broken promises for the people of Imperial Valley.

In a time when we are talking a great deal about “California values,” I think it's important to define what that means. Perhaps the most core belief is recognizing and elevating those that have been forgotten and made invisible.

In the past 16 years, the state’s economy has grown vastly larger and its civic leadership more inclusive. How this state commits itself to answer the silent public health and environmental crises at the Salton Sea and honor its promises will be a real test of our California values and our collective commitment to serving all Californians — not just when it is convenient, inexpensive, and politically expedient.

The failed leadership of the past three administrations for the Salton Sea is only a set of opportunities for the current one. An opportunity to honor our commitment to protecting the environment and wildlife in a real way where it really counts. An opportunity for the children of Imperial Valley to no longer live in fear that clouds of toxic dust blanketing our Valley will send them to a hospital bed. An opportunity to no longer carry inhalers like this one for the rest of their lives.

I’ll close this morning with a few words penned by California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cuellar — himself a native of the Imperial Valley, Calexico specifically — in a CalMatters editorial this week.

He wrote, “To continue on this path in the years to come, we need ... to make sure voices from places like the Imperial Valley are included in our civic conversation along with those from places like the Bay Area or Los Angeles.

“We must retain as much candor as possible about the long-term costs of neglecting the needs of the most vulnerable kids among us, and the risks they face. And we must find the most creative and principled ways to reach the kids whose voices and dreams will help California achieve its full promise.”

One step toward that promise is to recognize that the crisis in Imperial Valley should be treated with the same concern as anywhere else in our state.

That Imperial County should receive the same concern as Marin County, Niland as Napa, Brawley as Beverly Hills, and Calexico as Calabasas.

The crisis we have seen play out over the last 16 years at the Salton Sea will only be its future if we choose it to be. Birds and fish dying by the thousands and epidemic rates of childhood asthma can finally become history.

In closing, I ask that your Board and this administration treat the Salton Sea, wildlife, and people of Imperial Valley with the respect and dignity that each deserves.

The true test of a person’s character is what they do when no one is watching. The people of our Valley, though comparatively few in number, are watching. And we ask that after 16 years that we get an equal shot at the California Dream.

Thank you.

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