With their passage of Senate Bill 5 right at the end of the 2017 legislative session, California lawmakers have given voters an opportunity to make a profound investment in parks and clean water. The $4 billion bond package includes funding for parks in park-poor communities, groundwater cleanup, flood protection, habitat conservation, and much more.
For the approximately 700,000 people living around the Salton Sea, the bond has profound meaning for their quality of life.
After extended negotiations, lawmakers chose to include $200 million for dust mitigation and habitat restoration at the Salton Sea. With a critical deadline coming at the end of the year for the Salton Sea, this funding indicates a real sense of urgency from the state in averting a public health and environmental disaster. Audubon California, its partners in the NGO community, and thousands of Audubon activists pushed hard for this funding to be included in the bond measure.
The Salton Sea has been in decline for the past fifteen years, threatening the health of people living nearby and destroying habitat for migratory birds. Water diversions and drought have already created increased public health risks from dust. Bird populations that rely on the sea are crashing due to lack of food and habitat. This decline will rapidly worsen in 2018 as the sea will receive even less water due to water transfers from the Imperial Valley to urban users in Riverside and San Diego counties. In the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to provide so-called mitigation water to the sea for fifteen years to slow the decline while the state implemented a number of measures to avoid the inevitable disaster. In 2018, that water will stop – and the state has failed to do the work on the ground that would protect people and birds.
The state released a draft plan earlier this year that outlined key projects at the Sea, but that document didn’t come with any funding for the $380 million price tag. Eighty million dollars that the state budgeted for the Salton Sea last year hasn’t yet resulted in any projects.
The bond money in Senate Bill 5 marks a real commitment by the state to keep its promise to the people of the Salton Sea. Now it needs to finalize its plan and get to work. Time is running out.