Responding to congressional approval of a Southwestern drought pact, officials from the Imperial Irrigation District said Tuesday the Salton Sea is the untested plan’s “first casualty.”
“Whether the passage of this Drought Contingency Plan will improve the sustainability of the Colorado River is an open question,” IID board President Erik Ortega said. “What we know for sure is that it is a dramatic setback for the sustainability of the Salton Sea, which makes it, in my view, the first casualty of this DCP.”
The desert water agency was excluded from the DCP by the Colorado River Board of California last month. IID had refused to sign the plan because it wanted a “firm commitment” of more than $400 million in state and federal funds to resolve environmental issues at the Salton Sea.
Ortega said the plan, which was approved by Congress Monday, “tries to pretend that the Salton Sea doesn’t exist.”
Over the last month, federal legislators worked with state and local representatives to introduce a bill that authorizes the DCP, a multi-state agreement that ensures states from the Lower Colorado River Basin will agree to store set volumes of water in Lake Mead if the lake reaches certain levels.
Although IID officials said they do not believe the water plan will be as effective without their participation, some legislative provisions were added to the plan providing Salton Sea protections in response to the agency’s criticism.
According to Robert Schettler of IID, the protections are essentially “a safety clause for the sea.”
“At minimum, the sea needs to be held harmless from the DCP,” he said.
Although the Salton Sea continues to be federally protected under the Drought Contingency Plan, IID’s concerns about what it calls a mounting public health crisis at the Salton Sea remain.
“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.”
Nearly 650,000 people are affected by poor air quality in the area, according to a report from the Pacific Institute.
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 back in December when the organization tentatively agreed to sign the DCP, Schettler said.
The DCP now awaits approval from President Donald Trump.
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