Senator Barbara Boxer tours the Salton Sea with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Local politicians Raul Ruiz and Manuel Perez discuss the Salton Sea with national officials
by, Lucia Gody Alcayaga
U.S. Senator from California, Barbara Boxer, led an entourage that brought the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to view, upfront and close, the Salton Sea and its receding coastline.
The crux of the matter is that the clean up or mitigation of the sea to its former glory costs more than the county or the state can afford. However, the nine billion dollar restoration figure that is sited may be more than what the US Federal budget has to spend on California’s largest lake, dying or not.
Along with Boxer and Salazar was California representative Manuel Perez and Congressman-Elect Dr. Raul Ruiz.
Salazar asked natives Perez and Ruiz about their memories of growing up around the Salton Sea. They spoke about the people that came from all around for various activities such as camping, water skiing, fishing, jet skiing, hiking, birdwatching, sailboarding and boating. Dr. Ruiz remembered the movie stars that came to play at the sea.
Locals, such as Imperial Irrigation District Director Jim Hanks, mentioned the importance of keeping local control on the Salton Sea restoration as well as promoting private sector development to help alleviate public funding of the sea.
“I was born here and also remember the sea in better days, but besides the recreational aspect of the sea, growers count on it as protection against frost,” related Jim Hanks.
“The Qualification Settlement Agreement (QSA) was signed only because in the resolved language the state stepped up for the cost of the mitigation, or else there would have been no agreement, this way it would not fall on the backs of the Imperial County residents.”
“Local growers are putting in conservation measures, some at their own costs since 2003, the year the QSA was signed. Since then, 800,000 aquatic feet plus of additional water has been sent to the municipal water district as under-used water, that accounts for part of the recession of sea water.”
“As local growers become more efficient with their water, not only to meet the transfer agreement, the junior water rights holders also benefit from growers’ conservation measures.”
“As you look around you see all the geothermal activity going on around here. Permitting is a big issue. These are 49 megawatt plants, they could easily be 200. They face constant permitting problems plus the willingness of the rest of the state of California to provide purchase power agreements here. It is always an issue for a public utility transmission versus the IOU, the Investor Owned Utility, there needs to be an example provided for these investors to progress. For every development that comes in here it helps offset the mitigation that otherwise we’ll be faced with. Private investors are willing to assume that responsibility.”
“Finally, local control, the Salton Sea Authority, is willing to step up and get direction, listen to all the local people, they know what needs to be done.”
Salazar promised to “shake some trees in Washington” to see if he couldn’t find some money, at least enough for the first project of flooding the east bay, Red Hill Bay, for $4 million dollars. This plan is fully developed and ready to go once funding is found. The plan calls for a foot or two of water to cover a large area on the eastern side of the sea that dried up and has exposed playa. This water will stop the contaminated dust from blowing off the playa and provide a bird sanctuary. The water will be edged with an earthen berm.
Ruiz, Boxer, and Salazar agreed with the concept of local control, and all three pledged to go back to Washington and fight for more funds to help with mitigation costs.