Salton Sea restoration effort draws Assembly subcommittee hearing
A man fishes outside the North Shore Yacht Club where a state hearing was held Monday to discuss the future of the Salton Sea. (ELIZABETH VARIN)
The North Shore resident of 16 years has seen people move away, kids having health problems and the smell of the sea grow worse throughout the years, she said in Spanish. The residents there now only have one store in which to buy groceries, and Lopez attributes that among other things to a declining, super-salinated sea that appears no closer to getting better.
She wants to know when all the talk is going to stop and action will start to save the sea and the community she lives in. No one could answer Lopez’s question, though much discussion settled Monday around how the state can move forward to help save the Salton Sea.
Sacramento came to the Salton Sea as the Assembly budget subcommittee on resources and transportation held a hearing at the North Shore Yacht Club, inviting local officials and residents to give their input on how they see the future of the largest inland body of water in the state. Assemblymen V. Manuel Perez, Richard Gordon and Brian Jones toured the sea and heard the continued frustration of residents and officials complaining about inaction at the state level.
“This is shameful and frightening,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental organization. “It’s shameful that we spend so much time and so much money on studying the sea to death with no real benefit to show. It’s frightening because the situation at the Salton Sea is grim and the stakes are high.”
She, among others, expressed deep frustration in what they say is a significant amount of bond money spend on a lot of studies, but no projects to restore the sea. After eight years of working on getting something done and a project in the ground, Delfino said she’s losing hope for the sea.
With a view of the sea out the window, palm trees sprouting off the shore and birds flying by, the panel and audience members spoke of the funding sources, what governing body should be involved and a not-yet-approved plan for restoration.
The sea has been in trouble for years, and the continuation of the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer has accelerated the receding shoreline and increased salinity that will likely make it hard in the future for fish to survive and birds to migrate to the sea, said Anton Favorini-Csorba, a California Legislative Analyst’s Office analyst for resources and environmental protection. The decreasing sea also poses a big risk to public health because it can increase the levels of air particulate matter in an area that already has bad air quality.
The state Legislature has set up three priorities for any plan to restore the sea, including restoring the shoreline for fish and bird habitats, eliminating air quality impacts and protecting the water quality, he said. However, with funding availability in limbo, the state will likely have to prioritize what it needs at the sea. The preferred plan to include all those priorities has an $8.9 billion price tag, much of which will have to be paid upfront for capital projects.
Currently the state has about $6.5 million of uncommitted funding for the sea, he said. “That doesn’t get us very far,” he said.
The state and locals are going to need to work together to prioritize the goals of restoring the sea, said Assemblyman Gordon, D-Palo Alto. He chairs the budget subcommittee on resources and transportation, the group that looked at eliminating the Salton Sea Restoration Council last year.
When the issues came up as to whether to fund restoration work while not having a governing body, members of the subcommittee had wanted to know more about the issues, Gordon said. That’s why the local meeting was scheduled.
“What we do to this sea is critically important, not only for this region, but the state of California,” he said.
For Assemblyman Perez, D-Coachella, the fight is not only political, but also personal. He remembers growing up in the area, swimming in the sea and catching corvina, he told the crowd.
Action needs to be taken now in order to save the sea, he said. The sea is running out of time.
He added he thinks there’s great momentum to see change done, and he hopes to work with both the state and local sources to find a solution to the problem that has plagued the area for decades.
Residents made up a good portion of the crowd that filled two rooms at the yacht club. People stood outside the room, peering in, while others sat through the three-hour meeting waiting to give their opinions on the sea restoration, like Bombay Beach resident Sonia Herbert.
“We live right on the sea,” she said. “We’re just hoping somebody will do something soon.”
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3441.