Crucial Salton Sea Bill To Be Voted On Affects Fate of Birds, Public Health, and Southern California’s Water

For Immediate Release: August 8, 2008

Crucial Salton Sea Bill To Be Voted On Affects Fate of Birds, Public Health, and Southern California’s Water

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Appropriations committee on August 7 approved California State Senator Denise Ducheny’s bill SB 187.  SB 187 provides needed direction to state agencies and authorizes the expenditure of $47 million in existing Prop. 84 bond funds on Salton Sea projects. The bill will be heard by the full Assembly next week.

“By passing Senator Ducheny’s SB 187, the legislature today has the opportunity for a real state-wide victory,” said Michael Cohen, senior associate at the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. “Unlike the gridlock that blocks action on so many key statewide issues, broad consensus on the way forward for the Salton Sea, combined with existing bond funds, makes approval of SB 187 the clear choice for the committee and the legislature as a whole.”

“Farmers, water agencies, recreational interests, and environmentalists agree on the state’s proposed five-year Phase I Plan to implement “no regrets” habitat and air quality projects,” Dan Taylor, Director of Public Policy for Audubon California, said, “and after months of tough negotiations, Salton Sea projects and SB 187 enjoy broad support.”

In 2003, the Legislature committed California – and its taxpayers – to assume liability for managing Salton Sea dust emissions caused by the transfer of water from Imperial Valley agriculture to urban San Diego. The Legislature also committed to develop a plan to restore the Sea’s imperiled ecosystem, home to more than 400 species of birds, including pelicans, avocets, skimmers, stilts, ducks, and grebes, often numbering in the hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Under complicated arrangements, the Salton Sea’s major dust emissions and public health disaster are not expected to occur until 2018 (though some dust has already begun to blow from its exposed shore). In 2006, the state estimated the cost of managing dust emissions at about $800 million, plus another $48 million a year for operations and maintenance costs that will continue, every year, through 2077. Legislative inaction will cause costs to continue to rise, and will recklessly threaten the health and welfare of the people of the Imperial and Coachella valleys. Delays also push the Sea’s ecosystem closer to the tipping point, beyond which restoration becomes far more challenging, if not impossible.

“Back in 2003, the legislature assumed responsibility for protecting public health downwind of the Sea, at a cost now estimated in excess of a billion dollars,” said Imperial County Supervisor Gary Wyatt. “Five years later, it’s high time the legislature stepped up.”

Michael Cohen stated, “Without the state’s backing and action on the Sea, the 2003 IID-San Diego water agreement collapses, and the statewide water crisis gets that much worse. The legislature should move quickly to adopt SB 187 and set the Sea on the road to recovery, protecting public health and enabling stakeholders to roll up their sleeves and get to work on resolving the Sea’s long-term future.”