Short Title
Water Authority Resolution Calls for Salton Sea Restoration

The San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors today unanimously approved a resolution urging the state of California to move forward with long-delayed plans to restore the Salton Sea. 

The board linked a successful restoration program for the sea to the “continued viability” of several long-term Colorado River water conservation and transfer agreements that are essential for meeting the San Diego region’s present and future water supply needs, as well as to statewide efforts to help California live within its share of Colorado River water.

“For nearly a decade, the Water Authority and other water agencies have successfully collaborated on, and funded efforts to help the Salton Sea as part of a broader strategy to manage California’s limited water resources and to help us improve water reliability in San Diego County,” said Board Chair Michael T. Hogan.  “To ensure that strategy will continue to benefit water users around California, including our region’s 3.1 million people and $186 billion economy, we need our Governor and our leaders in the Legislature to help the state of California live up to its obligations to identify, fund and carry out a Salton Sea restoration program.”

In 2003, the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) enabled and implemented a number of programs designed to help California manage its 4.4 million acre-foot basic annual apportionment of Colorado River water.  (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to meet the annual needs of two single-family households of four.)  These programs included the historic water conservation and transfer agreement between the Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District, and separate water-conserving canal-lining projects on the All-American Canal and Coachella Canal.  Combined, these programs will provide San Diego County with 160,000 acre-feet of water in 2011 and will ramp up to deliver 280,000 acre-feet of water to the region annually by 2021.

Also in 2003, the California Legislature passed, and the governor signed legislation that committed the state of California to take a variety of actions involving the Salton Sea.  Among them: identify a preferred restoration alternative for the Sea, and a viable financing plan to fund that restoration.

In addition, the QSA required environmental mitigation measures and plans to protect the Salton Sea, a desert lake below sea level that was accidentally created in 1905.  While the Salton Sea became an important habitat for birds and fish, over the last few decades it has slowly shrunk and become more saline because of evaporation and salt deposited by agricultural water draining into the lake.  Dust blowing from the exposed parts of the sea bed also is a health concern to Imperial Valley communities.

To help protect the Salton Sea, the Water Authority, the Imperial Irrigation District and the Coachella Valley Water District committed to do the following: 

  • The agencies will contribute $30 million to the Salton Sea Restoration Fund to jump-start the state’s restoration efforts, and provide $133 million more to support the QSA Joint Powers Authority (QSA JPA) to fund mitigation activities resulting from the QSA water transfers. 
  • Since 2003, the three water agencies have collaborated to ensure the QSA JPA delivered 165,000 acre-feet of water to the Salton Sea to offset the loss of agricultural drainage stemming from conservation programs related to the QSA water transfers.
  • The agencies also have supported the installation of five air quality monitoring stations and the creation of 365 acres of new wildlife habitat.

 “Our agencies have lived up to our obligations to help protect the Salton Sea, but the state has yet to act on its responsibility to adopt and fund a Salton Sea restoration plan,” Hogan said.  “The California Resources Agency recommended a preferred restoration plan in 2007 and the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended an approach in 2008 to help the state move beyond plan selection and begin restoration.  Continued delay only undermines all the years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars water agencies have invested to help secure California’s water future.”

The Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District boards also have recently approved resolutions urging the state to move forward with Salton Sea restoration planning and funding.

Meanwhile, QSA litigation is under way.  As part of hearing a lawsuit challenging the QSA, a Sacramento Superior Court judge invalidated 11 QSA-related agreements in January 2010 after determining the state’s obligation to pay Salton Sea mitigation costs is unconstitutional.  The Water Authority and other parties involved in the QSA have appealed, and an appellate court decision is expected sometime in 2011. 

The resolution is available at www.sdcwa.org/meetings-and-documents, and clicking on the March 24 board agenda. The action is on page 63 under the Imported Water Committee meeting agenda.