The Salton Sea has experienced repeated catastrophic environmental events in recent months, including mass bird die-offs, steep declines in migrating bird populations, and the appearance of widespread harmful algal blooms. Without action, the Salton Sea lakebed could become the largest source of particulate air pollution in North America, hurting the health of hundreds of thousands of people in California and northern Mexico. In addition, more than 300 bird species rely on the deep water, shoreline, mudflats, and wetlands at the Salton Sea.
“Our communities are living on the fringe of not only an ecological disaster, but a human health disaster,” says Frank Ruiz, Audubon CA's Salton Sea Program Director, who has lived in the Salton Sea area for close to a decade. “The lake is receding. Salinity is spiking. Birds are dying. We don’t have a lot of time. The clock is ticking.”
Representative Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Palm Desert) announced that the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2740, an appropriations bill that supports a federal agreement committing $30 million to projects addressing the environmental and public health crisis at the Salton Sea.
The bill also included Dr. Ruiz’s amendment directing the Bureau of Reclamation to dedicate an additional $2 million to projects that mitigate the Sea’s decline. These resources will support the multifaceted approach that is key to making progress in protecting the health of local residents and the birds around the Salton Sea.
"This bill reflects the all-hands-on-deck approach we must take to mitigate and manage the decline of the Salton Sea by investing in our local environment and the health of our children, seniors, and families," said Dr. Ruiz. "By working together, federal, state, and county governments, businesses, and tribes can deliver real, pragmatic results to protect the health and economy of our local communities."
H.R. 2740, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2020, passed the House by a vote of 226 to 203.
The bill included Dr. Ruiz’s amendment directing the Bureau of Reclamation to devote $2 million to projects with a public health benefit, such as managing the Salton Sea. These funds build on the $2.5 million the Bureau of Reclamation devoted to Salton Sea projects after Congress passed Dr. Ruiz’s amendment last year. Congressman Ruiz’s amendment passed the House by a vote of 382 to 52.
In 2016, with Dr. Ruiz’s support and urging, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the California Natural Resources Agency signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work hand-in-hand to protect the long-term health of the Sea and families across Southern California. H.R. 2740 includes provisions in support of the MOU, helping to ensure that the $30 million in funding pledged by the federal government goes toward managing the Salton Sea’s decline. In addition, the bill directs the Department of Interior to work collaboratively with other federal agencies, the State of California, and local partners in support of mitigation activities.