In an 8-to-1 vote Monday, the Colorado River Board voted to exclude the Imperial Irrigation District from a Southwestern states water conservation pact as the desert-based board members seek a “firm commitment” of more than $400 million in state and federal funds to restore what it calls a mounting public health crisis at the Salton Sea.
“By forging ahead, what they are saying is that the only acceptable way to check the boxes marked IID and Salton Sea is to erase them,” IID President Erik Ortega said prior to the announcement of the board’s vote. “What they’re also saying is that getting the (Drought Contingency Plan) done is more important than getting it right.”
The IID is the Colorado River’s largest single water user, Ortega said.
Chris Harris, executive director from the CRB of California, was not immediately available for comment.
Last week, IID said it will withhold its signature from the Drought Contingency Plan until it received a “firm commitment” of more than $200 million from the federal government for the 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan, according to IID spokesman Robert Schettler.
The plan includes projects such as creating small wetlands or geothermal sites to restore the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline and ultimately ensure that about 500,000 acres of land between Calexico and Palm Springs meets California Environmental Quality Act standards.
“The problem with the 10-year-plan is funds,” Schettler said. “If you look at what they plan in the next 10 years, those projects amount to $400 (million) to $420 million. The state only has about $200 million. So that’s why we are making a request for a federal match.”
The federal government is expected to make a decision on the funds Tuesday.
Nearly 650,000 people are affected by poor air quality in the area, according to a report from the Pacific Institute.
“The declining Salton Sea presents a severe public health and environmental crisis,” Schettler said. “This is really about protecting the backyard here… Our area in the Imperial Valley is one of the poorest in the state. You know, the lowest average median income and the highest asthma rate, and we’re trying to protect those people.”
Asthma risks increase for underprivileged communities as fine dust leaches into the air from the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline, according to Pacific Institute. More than 100 tons of dust per day could be released into the air by 2045 if the shorelines are allowed to recede at the current rate, the institute reported.
Restoration programs for the Salton Sea were linchpin issues for IID in December when the organization tentatively agreed to sign the DCP, Schettler said. The DCP is a multi-state agreement that ensures that states from the Lower Colorado River Basin will agree to store set volumes of water in Lake Mead if the lake reaches certain levels.
The Coachella Valley Water District approved the DCP by a unanimous vote Tuesday. The pact has already been approved by Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.
Schettler said it “remains to be seen” what the Imperial Irrigation District will do if the funds are not matched by the federal government. He added that the district is “in the game as long as the conditions are met.”
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