Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, Tuesday called for a congressional hearing to discuss the receding shoreline of the Salton Sea, which has exposed toxic dust and worsened air quality in the surrounding communities.

Ruiz co-wrote the letter with Rep. Juan Vargas, D-El Centro, to the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources requesting a hearing in the fall so that testimony can be heard from federal officials of various agencies he said have fallen short in their responsibility to help mitigate the environmental and public health challenges posed by the shrinking lake.

“Congress must hold federal agencies accountable for protecting the public’s health and recognize that managing the Sea is an emergency. A hearing will allow me to ask federal agencies tough questions and hold them accountable to their agreements,” Ruiz said in a statement.

He states in the letter that he would like the opportunity to ask officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which owns about 40% of the Salton Sea, “what obligations they have to prevent threats to public health as a result of that ownership.”

He also wants to allow local stakeholders to provide Congress with testimony about the health issues created by the diminishing lake.

Officials say that because the lake has historically been fed largely by agricultural runoff, dust picked up by wind from newly exposed lakebed contains dangerous chemicals that have contributed to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses for residents living near the Salton Sea in both Riverside and Imperial counties.

Also of concern is the increased salinity level of the waters, which has left the lake on the “brink of ecological collapse,” according to Ruiz.

“We view this hearing as a critical step towards establishing the robust federal-state partnership at the Salton Sea that is required in order to avoid a severe public health and environmental crisis,” he said.

The last Congressional hearing on the Salton Sea was conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee in 1997.

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