- Created on Wednesday, 13 March 2013 14:02
- Written by Imperial Valley News
Sacramento, California - This morning, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) voted to approve the request by Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez for a state audit of the management of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund. The request garnered strong, bipartisan and bicameral support, passing with a vote of 7-0 (Assembly) and 5-0 (Senate).
“The Salton Sea Restoration Fund is the primary vehicle for the State to meet its mitigation and restoration obligations under the QSA, and therefore it’s essential that the Fund is being properly managed,” said Pérez. “The purpose of this audit is to determine whether the current management of the Fund will enable the State to meet its statutory responsibilities and to identify if any corrective actions needed.”
Located in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of southeastern California, the Salton Sea is facing a long-term and costly restoration due to the effects of a receding shoreline. Its deterioration will accelerate rapidly with the implementation of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), the state’s largest rural-to-urban water transfer that will decrease water levels at the Sea dramatically beginning in 2017. By 2018, it is estimated that decreased water inflows to the Sea will cause the Sea’s depth to fall by five feet, exposing up to 26.5 square miles of currently submerged lakebed. The Imperial and Coachella Valleys, which already fail to meet state and federal ambient air quality standards, are likely to experience significant, adverse impacts related to public health, agricultural production, and the environment.
Acknowledging the impacts the water transfer would have on the Salton Sea region, the QSA made the State liable for mitigating the impacts of the water transfer on the Sea, including the cost of restoring the Sea to historical levels for fish and wildlife, a potentially multi-billion dollar effort. To meet this obligation, the State created the Salton Sea Restoration Fund to finance the relevant environmental and engineering studies needed to develop a restoration plan for the Salton Sea, as well as to implement interim conservation measures to protect fish and wildlife dependent on the Sea.
“To date, roughly $32 million dollars have been expended by the Fund, and yet we have no realistic restoration plan,” continued Pérez. “Why? My hope is that this audit will help us get to the bottom of the issue. At the same time, if additional monies are made available to the Restoration Fund, we need to be sure the management is appropriate to meet the state’s responsibilities and commitments to the Salton Sea.”
At today’s hearing, Pérez requested that JLAC approve a comprehensive audit of how the resources in the Restoration Fund have been managed thus far, including:
- an analysis of the organizational structure and level of coordination between the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR);
- an analysis of how staff time, resources and work are prioritized among the departments; and
- an analysis of any short or long-term plan that may exist to ascertain if it will fulfill the goals and objectives of the Fund.
Pérez made the initial request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee in January, as part of a multi-level effort known as the ‘Save Our Sea’ campaign that also includes three pieces of legislation:
AB 71, Salton Sea Restoration Governance Act, fills the gap created due to the elimination of the Salton Sea Restoration Council in the 2012 Budget Act. It addresses concerns local stakeholders had about the defunct Council by requiring the Natural Resources Agency to work in consultation and coordination with the local Salton Sea Authority (SSA). It also authorizes funding from the Salton Sea Restoration Fund for the SSA to prepare a restoration funding and feasibility study. The approach in this bill won broad consensus among the Salton Sea Authority, local tribes, statewide environmental organizations, and the Resources Agency last year.
AB 147, Salton Sea Air Pollution Mitigation Act, ensures the state assesses and plans for the significant air quality impacts anticipated for the southern California region due to the implementation of the QSA. The bill requires the preparation of a strategic plan to address air pollution at the Salton Sea, looking at, among other items: the extent of dust pollution to result from the exposed lakebed due to the QSA; the chemicals likely to be present in the dust arising from the Salton Sea given decades of agricultural runoff draining in the Sea; and additional funding mechanisms to pay for mitigation costs including harvesting the renewable energy generating potential of the Salton Sea.
AB 148 creates a mechanism to facilitate further development of the Sea’s renewable energy potential. The bill authorizes the Natural Resources Agency, together with the Salton Sea Authority, to establish a Salton Sea Renewable Energy & Biofuel Research and Development Program to meet economic and environmental goals by providing grants to facilitate research and the commercial development of renewable and biofuel energy resources in the Salton Sea basin. Given that the Sea is one of the largest untapped sources of renewable energy in California, the intent is to create a funding stream to mitigate dust pollution and help offset costs associated with the restoration.
The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, covering 365 square miles. Located in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of Southern California, the Sea rests in close proximity to thousands of residents and some of the state’s most fertile agricultural land. It also serves as a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route used by over 400 species of birds.