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Audubon California’s message to Salton Sea policymakers: Don’t blow it

Representatives point out that the state and key stakeholders are poised to make up for lost time on one of the state’s most intractable environmental issues.

Coachella, Calif. – With the California State Water Resources Control Board set to hear testimony concerning the state’s progress in addressing the ongoing crisis at the Salton Sea, representatives of Audubon California today had one simple message for policymakers: Don’t blow it.

“With a plan in place, funding available, and support from the Governor and Legislature, the state and stakeholders will not have a better opportunity to make progress at the Salton Sea,” said Mike Lynes, Audubon California’s director of public policy. “From the perspective of the communities around the sea and the environment, we can’t afford to blow this chance.”

The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in North America, and the larger region is home to about a million people. As part of the Colorado River Delta, the sea filled and dried for thousands of years prior to its current, 35-mile-long incarnation. The 350-square-mile sea has partially replaced wetland habitat lost to agricultural and urban conversion in the Colorado River Delta, California’s coast, and the San Joaquin Valley. For more than a century, the sea has served as a major nesting, wintering, and stopover site for millions of birds of nearly 300 species.

Since 2003, when Colorado River water that filled the Salton Sea in the form of agricultural runoff began to be diverted elsewhere, the state of California has been slow to complete promised restoration and dust control projects. This became ever more urgent at the end of 2017, when water to partially compensate for the loss was cut off, accelerating the falling sea level and increasing the danger of air pollution and habitat loss.

But recent months have brought hope. California for the first time has committed substantial funding, about $280 million, for habitat restoration and dust mitigation. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Natural Resources Agency Sec. Wade Crowfoot have made strong commitments to resolve  issues that have delayed the state’s response at the Salton Sea. The state is already making moves to shore up the agency that will be responsible for implementing the Salton Sea Management Plan.

One of the major sticking points that has prevented progress on the ground has been the state’s inability to resolve disagreements over easements with local landowners such as the Imperial Irrigation District. Several deadlines have come and gone to resolve these issues.

“The State Water Board is in a good position to get the state and IID to commit to a real deadline to resolve these issues and establish real framework for accountability,” added Lynes. “If the parties are unable to resolve these issues in a short timeframe, we’d like to see some kind of arbitrated process to get past this obstacle and get some shovels in the ground.”

The California Water Quality Control Board will Tuesday, March 19, at 8:30am at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, 99155 Sea View Drive, North Shore. The public is invited to attend and comment.

About Audubon California 

Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society.

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