The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced on Monday that they will provide $250 million in funding to help reduce health risks and increase aquatic restoration efforts at the Salton Sea in Southern California.
Since being formed over 100 years ago, the inland Salton Sea, located in Riverside County and Imperial County, has gradually changed from being a vacation location for Californians to a growing environmental hazard. Agricultural runoff, including pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals, has gradually been pumped more and more into the Sea, causing it to become more and more toxic. However, droughts in the last few decades have exacerbated the problem, with less flow from the Colorado River and other tributaries causing the Sea to recede, exposing decades worth of runoff to dry and blown off as dust, creating a major environmental hazard for both nearby residents and wildlife. The megadrought of the 2020’s has accelerated this even more, leading to more and more resources budgeted to stop it.
While some funding and programs have been set up, including $583 million in funding from the state in the past decades, the situation never garnered a major bloc of funding from the federal government until Monday, when an agreement between the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the California Natural Resources Agency, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) was reached. According to the agreement, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation will provide $22 million in new funding through the Inflation Reduction Act in fiscal year 2023 to implement projects at the Sea. An additional $228 million will also be given over the next four years to expedite existing projects and bolster staffing capacity at the water agencies to help deliver new projects. All $250 million worth of funding is to come from the Biden Administration’s $4 billion Inflation Reduction Act.
“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to bringing every resource to bear to help manage the drought crisis and provide a sustainable water system for families, businesses and our vast and fragile ecosystems,” said Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Boudreau on Monday. “This landmark agreement represents a key step in our collective efforts to address the challenges the Colorado River Basin is facing due to worsening drought and climate change impacts. Historic investments from the Inflation Reduction Act will help to support the Imperial and Coachella Valley and the environment around the Salton Sea, as well as support California’s efforts to voluntarily save 400,000 acre-feet a year to protect critical elevations at Lake Mead.”
Funding for the Salton Sea area
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot added, “This agreement is a huge step forward. It builds our momentum delivering projects at the Sea to protect communities and the environment and ensures that California’s leadership conserving Colorado River water supplies doesn’t come at the expense of local residents.”
Water experts noted on Tuesday that the funding was tied more with the division of the Colorado River and the drought more than anything else, as the problems at the Sea have been tied directly with water from the Colorado River going towards more urban areas than farms in recent years.
“For roughly 100 years all that water that came from farms flowed into the Salton Sea, and now the Sea is drying up because that water has been going elsewhere due to this drought,” explained Kate Sobchak, a water resources consultant, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Let’s not kid ourselves. People screwed up on water allocation to cities and farmers, particularly those in Arizona have been desperate to keep the dwindling allocations. So now we need new projects so no one is dried out, especially the Native tribes in the area, and that the toxic dust that can blow from the dried parts of the Salton Sea don’t affect anyone negatively.”
“Up river, they also don’t want the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam to stop producing electricity, and to get some water to people up there. What it all really comes down to is that federal, state, and local governments were not allocating correctly, and are now fixing a mistake with a quarter-billion from Interior, in addition to the over half-billion the state already has put to this. It’s not so much restoration as it is to stopping what damage there already has been.”
Other state efforts are also expected to be added to the efforts at the Salton Sea in the coming years.
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