California budget OKs $30M for Salton Sea study

Gov. Brown vetoed $3M that would have paid for other projects at lake


Jun. 27, 2013
Rescuing the Salton Sea: Residents around the Salton Sea weigh in on the issues surrounding the sea and its future.

The state budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday commits $30 million for a study and habitat restoration work at the Salton Sea, but the governor also used a line-item veto to cut $3 million that would have gone toward other projects at the shrinking lake.

The $3 million vetoed by the governor would have paid for grants through the Salton Sea Financial Assistance Program, which previously has provided funding to build wetlands along the lake’s receding shoreline.

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“While I am supportive of restoration efforts for the sea, the Salton Sea Restoration Fund is limited,” Brown said in a message explaining the veto. “It is essential to reserve funds to implement recommendations based on the funding and feasibility study.”

That $2 million study by the Salton Sea Authority, which is to be carried out under the direction of the secretary of natural resources, is to analyze alternatives for coping with diminishing flows of water into the Salton Sea.

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An additional $28.4 million in the budget will be used by the Department of Water Resources to restore 800-1,200 acres of habitat for fish and birds by building ponds on the lake’s south end.

“We want to have the benefit of the study and its findings and recommendations before we commit the additional dollars,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance.

The amounts dedicated to Salton Sea projects increased markedly from the $4 million provided in the 2012-13 budget.

The Salton Sea has been shrinking in recent years as agricultural runoff has diminished, and the pace of change is expected to pick up significantly in 2018 due to a water transfer agreement that will send large amounts of Colorado River water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego.

As the Salton Sea shrinks, exposed stretches of shoreline are expected to release increasing amounts of dust into the wind. Dust from the drying lake could pose increasing health hazards similar to those that have plagued communities near the remnants of the Owens Lake since its waters were diverted to Los Angeles.

Dust mitigation efforts at Owens Lake are projected to cost $1.2 billion, and experts say a larger area of lake bed could eventually end up exposed at the Salton Sea.

“The state will be stuck with a huge bill for dust mitigation unless something is done in the very near future, and really it’s not clear to me we have enough time anymore,” said Michael Cohen, a senior associate at the Oakland-based Pacific Institute who has studied the Salton Sea’s dilemmas.

Cohen said the governor’s decision to cut funding seems to “mark yet another grim day for the Salton Sea, as the state continues to ‘reserve’ limited funds for undefined future efforts when locals have already demonstrated their willingness to get much-needed projects on the ground, faster and much cheaper than the state.”

The state says it has $17.7 million in a Salton Sea Restoration Fund that can be used for future projects.

Cohen called the pace of action frustratingly slow.

“The state has been sitting on this money for many years, and they spend a lot of money on consultants, and they spend a lot of money on staff salaries, and we’re still waiting for the state to actually do something,” Cohen said. “I would argue that we’ve studied this for a long time and time is running out.”

Debi Livesay, a member of the Coachella Valley Water District Board, said she feels the Salton Sea “has never been a priority for the state.”

“Until we make them understand what the environmental impacts are going to be, we will remain in the back seat,” she said.


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