EL CENTRO – The Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) Joint Powers Authority (JPA) failed to pass a 2016 budget at their recent meeting of May 20, 2015. The JPA consists of representitives, or Commissioners, from the San Diego County Water Authority (SDWA), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID).
For the past 12 years, IID Environmentalist Bruce Wilcox has submitted the budget for the JPA. This is the first time a proposed mitigation budget for the Salton Sea has not been passed.
The JPA has funded the creation and delivery of 450,000 acre-feet of fallowed water to the Salton Sea since 2003. The IID has discovered that the QSA water transfers are linked to some of the “unanticipated elevation drop of the Salton Sea.” New studies have found this will bring air quality issues to the surrounding areas, according to IID General Manager Kevin Kelley and Commissioner for the JPA.
IID General Manager Kevin Kelley sent a letter to the JPA Commissioners expressing his concern over the unmitigated impacts of the water transfers on the local environment and residents in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys.
“The proposed JPA budget contained a $580,000 line item for mitigation of exposed playa at the Salton Sea attributed to the water transfers,” said Kelley. “This line item was removed from the budget. It is only 2% of the total budget. It is half of what the IID has allocated to the mitigation of the Salton Sea, which is unrelated to the QSA. As your Commissioner to the JPA, I objected to its removal. The item was removed prior to the meeting. I asked that it be restored. It was not. I let the JPA know that if the item were not restored for action, the IID would be voting no on the budget. The item was restored, seconded, and passed. The motion to approve the budget failed to get a second.”
San Diego and Coachella Water Districts voted for the budget, with the state and IID voting against.
The state voted against the budget, claiming a budget cannot be passed without its affirmative vote.
There was a motion by the San Diego Water Authority to remove all area impact mitigation, the $580,000 line item and the $1.6 million in ongoing mitigation for air quality impacts, according to Kelley.
“I intend to vote against this budget if it does not contain the line item in question that has to do with impacts on the Salton Sea caused by the water transfers,” said Kelley. “I fully expect that a budget will be passed soon.”
The board weighed in with their comments.
“If the state doesn’t step up to their mitigation obligations, they are getting into the area of a breach,” said Director Bruce Kuhn.
“When you move beyond the current dispute of whether or not they have an approved budget,” said Kelley, “there are broader implications, not only for the JPA, but the QSA and for the water transfer in which they depend. The action by the JPA last week, especially the two other water agencies, the San Diego Water District and the Coachella Valley Water District, were entirely consistent with the remarks that each of them delivered at the State Board San Ysidro workshop in which they placed continued inexpensive water over the legitimate public health concerns raised by the IID Board in Imperial County.”
“The San Diego Water Authority and Coachella Valley Water District are taking overt actions to not acknowledge these health consequences of the Salton Sea,” said Director Matt Dessert. “They have hijacked this simple activity of a good faith budget for the JPA that all of the QSA partners have paid into and stopping with incremental success to go to a larger project of environmental concern for human health and air emissions at the Salton Sea. It is a big message they are sending. It is dangerous.”
“I urge all JPA Commissioners to consider the ramifications of their respective positions with regard to mitigation funding and implementation requirements,” said Kelley in his letter to the JPA Commissioners. “The IID will support nothing less than the QSA it authorized in 2003, which includes full mitigation of all impacts caused by the conservation and transfer agreements.”
The IID Board voted to have Mr. Kelley continue pressing for the budget they approved.
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, covering 376 square miles of Imperial and Riverside counties. It was formed in 1905 when floodwaters from the Colorado River breached a canal, and the river fl owed into what is known as the Salton Sink. Today, the sea is sustained primarily by irrigation run-off
from nearby farms.
One important factor in the future of the Salton Sea region is the Colorado River
Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003, known as the QSA. The historic set of agreements includes a water transfer of up to 200,000 acre-feet a year from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority for up to 75 years, and a long-term conservation and transfer agreement between Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and the Coachella Valley Water District for up to 103,000 acre-feet per year.
Joint Powers Authority
To mitigate the impacts of water transfers on the Salton Sea, the state Legislature formed a Joint Powers Authority, or JPA, that includes representatives from the Water Authority, IID, Coachella Valley Water District, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. According to state legislation, the JPA is required to pay $133 million in 2003 dollars (equivalent to $375 million over the life of the QSA) for environmental mitigation related to the water transfers, with the majority of those funds dedicated to the Salton Sea. Of the total, the Water Authority is responsible for $99 million over the life of the QSA. The state agreed to assume “unconditional sole responsibility for all environmental costs that exceed the $133 million.”
Once the JPA is no longer responsible to provide water to the Salton Sea, the shoreline will be exposed at a faster rate. At the start of the QSA, it was “anticipated” that a state restoration plan would be approved by the Legislature by the end of 2017. While there have been many studies of the Salton Sea, and the state’s resources secretary has selected a preferred alternative, no restoration plans have been finalized and no financing has been identified. The Water Authority and its JPA partners continue to advocate for the state to meets its obligations to the QSA and the Salton Sea.
In addition to mitigation money, the Water Authority, IID and Coachella Valley Water District have pledged $67 million over the life of the QSA to improve habitat and air quality around the Salton Sea. The state will place the money into the Salton Sea Restoration Fund. In September 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown
signed legislation setting aside $2 million from that fund to pay for a Salton Sea Restoration Feasibility Study and Financial Plan to be created by the California Natural Resources Agency and the Salton Sea Authority, which formed in 1993 to oversee Salton Sea issues. The study, scheduled to be complete in mid-2016, is intended to develop a realistic and financially feasible restoration plan.
Money from the Salton Sea Restoration Fund also is supporting projects that will advance restoration efforts. Those projects, some of which was expected to launch in late 2014, include:
■ Species Conservation Habitat Project The state Department of Water Resources, in tandem with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, will construct a 640-acre pond near where the New River flows into the sea. It is part of a larger state Species Conservation Habitat Project to provide habitat for tilapia, a food source for migratory birds.
■ Red Hill Marina Project
The federal government will build 420 acres of shallow-water habitat in an area
called Red Hill Marina inside the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge. Current
funds will cover about half of the project. Additional grant money is being sought.
■ Torres Martinez Wetland Project The Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, based on the north end of the Salton Sea, will build a five-acre pilot project to support fish habitat and maintain food sources for migratory birds.
■ Marine Habitat Project IID and a “private company” will build two half-acre solar gradient ponds that can produce renewable energy while creating fish habitat at the southern end of