May 3, 2023

Supervisor Perez, Salton Sea Authority Raise Opposition to Bill that Could Threaten Progress on the Salton Sea

By Bob Marra

Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez and the Salton Sea Authority are concerned about a bill, Senate Bill 583, that could stall progress and projects for the Salton Sea.

Supervisor Perez has submitted a letter of opposition to SB 583, a bill in the state legislature proposed by State Senator Steve Padilla. Last week, the Salton Sea Authority voted to formally oppose the measure.

Supervisor Perez was a member of the State Assembly a decade ago when he established, through his legislation, AB 71, the existing successful partnership between the State of California and the Salton Sea Authority, which consists of local entities: Riverside County, Imperial County, the Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District and Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. This partnership has now led to the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Program and active projects now happening at the Salton Sea.

SB 583 could undo years of progress to get local governments from Riverside County and Imperial County, water agencies, and Tribal governments on the same page working together with the state. SB 583 proposes a “Salton Sea Conservancy,” a new governance structure, that could sidestep the local Salton Sea Authority and add an unnecessary planning layer that could delay the delivery of projects.

“It has taken years to get to where we are, where we have agreement between Imperial and Riverside counties and the local communities with the state on plans for the Salton Sea,” said Supervisor Perez. “As a result, we are now seeing projects moving forward and actually happening. This bill, SB 583, could upend the positive course that we are on for the Salton Sea and I am very concerned that the Senator has yet to reach out to local communities to discuss this bill.”

In a letter to Senator Padilla, Supervisor Perez pointed out several additional specific concerns about the bill, including:

  • Undefined definitions on who would be part of the “Salton Sea Conservancy Board”;
  • Unclear how the new “Director” would work with the current California Natural Resources Agency Assistant Secretary on Salton Sea; and
  • A “Conservancy” empowered to run all the Salton Sea projects may conflict with Riverside and Imperial County Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts which would be financed with county resources requiring county oversight.

“The County of Riverside has land use authority and residents that are directly impacted by the Salton Sea. Unfortunately, we were not aware of the intent to craft a new governance structure for the Salton Sea through this proposed legislation. With only weeks of legislative session remaining, I am concerned that we don’t have sufficient time to vet this proposal with the public,” Supervisor Perez added in the letter.

In a strongly-worded opposition letter to Senator Padilla, Salton Sea Authority President and Imperial County Supervisor Luis A. Plancarte and Vice President Altrena Santillanes and Torrez Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Tribal Secretary pointed out in much detail the basis of the Authority’s oversight and governance capacity.

“The Salton Sea Authority (“Authority”) was formed on June 2, 1993, as a joint powers authority consisting of the Coachella Valley Water District, the Imperial Irrigation District, the County of Riverside, the County of Imperial, and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. The Authority was created out of a “need for a local agency to work with the state of California, the federal government, and the Republic of Mexico in the development of programs to ensure the continued beneficial uses of the Salton Sea, including enhancing the “recreational and economic development potential of the Salton Sea.” The Authority was deliberately created as a “public agency separate and apart from any Party” to coordinate and harmonize Salton Sea activities across the member agencies “relating to improvement of water quality and stabilization of water elevation and to enhance the recreational and economic potential of the Salton Sea and other beneficial uses,” Plancarte and Santillanes stated.

They also made it clear in their letter that the state of California has been far from effective in its role and efforts to find a solution to the environmental problems still plaguing the Salton Sea, stating, “After numerous starts and stops the state has undergone since codifying the Quantification Settlement Agreement in 2003, we are naturally concerned that this proposal is just the latest reorganization “solution” to the state’s inability to meet its legal obligations. The examples are too numerous to forget, from the Natural Resources Secretary recommending an $8.9 billion plan to restore the Sea in 2008, a financially unfeasible proposal that required a $2 million Salton Sea Funding Feasibility Study in 2013 to help correct, to the Gubernatorial appointment of a Salton Sea Task Force in 2015 to develop what became the ten-year Salton Sea Management Program to address 29,800 acres of exposed playa, to the 2017 State Water Board Water Order 2017-0134 establishing annual acreage completion requirements of both habitat and dust-suppression projects on 29,800 acres of exposed playa that, to date, the state has managed to miss every year since.”

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