Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt was appointed Tuesday to a committee that could help reshape the future of the dying Salton Sea.
Hewitt was selected to take the seat briefly occupied by now-retired Fifth District Supervisor Marion Ashley on the Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Authority. Hewitt’s four colleagues on the Board of Supervisors formally approved his appointment without comment.
The Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District was conceived by Supervisor Manuel Perez, and the board unanimously approved formation of the special tax district in October, although additional steps are required, including voter approval, to permanently put it in place.
Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating bond measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving and fortifying what’s left of the receding 360-square-mile lake, the bulk of which lies in neighboring Imperial County.
EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects.
The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.
The proposed EIFD would be fixed between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.
An EIFD relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.
A public hearing on the proposed EIFD has tentatively been set for the morning of June 11 at the North Shore & Yacht Club in Mecca, at 91155 Sea View Drive.
According to the Executive Office, the Salton Sea EIFD would ensure funding for an earthen dam to control water loss from the north end of the lake.
Sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.
“The state has used … monies to produce more studies and plans for restoration, yet nothing has been decided,” according to an Executive Office statement from October.
Officials pointed out that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing proactive done, according to the Executive Office.
Proposition 66, the $4 billion water bond measure approved by voters last June, set aside $200 million for Sea projects. If the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.
In September 2012, Ashley called for the state to “step aside” and allow the regionally managed Salton Sea Authority to oversee restoration plans.
The supervisor was frustrated by inaction that had permitted the aea to erode to the point of eutrophication, killing off animal and plant life because of extreme salinity, which in turn created conditions for a sulphuric stench that wafted eastward across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin.
Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.
For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, 2018, leaving the future ecology of the area in doubt.