A $200 million decision from the federal government is expected Tuesday as the Imperial Irrigation District battles a California water agency to be included in a Southwestern-states water conservation pact.
The Colorado River Board voted 8-to-1 Monday to exclude IID from the Drought Contingency Plan as the desert-based board members sought a “firm commitment” of more than $400 million in state and federal funds to restore what it calls a mounting public health crisis at the Salton Sea. The plan includes projects such as creating small wetlands or geothermal sites to restore the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline and ultimately ensure that about 500,000 acres of land between Calexico and Palm Springs meets California Environmental Quality Act standards.
“By forging ahead, what they are saying is that the only acceptable way to check the boxes marked IID and Salton Sea is to erase them,” IID President Erik Ortega said prior to the announcement of the CRB’s vote. “What they’re also saying is that getting the DCP done is more important than getting it right.”
Last week, IID spokesman Robert Schettler said it “remains to be seen” what IID will do if the funds are not matched by the Federal Government. He added that IID is “in the game as long as the conditions are met.”
Nearly 650,000 people are affected by poor air quality in the area, according to a report from the Pacific Institute.
“The declining Salton Sea presents a severe public health and environmental crisis,” Schettler said. “This is really about protecting the backyard here… Our area in the Imperial Valley is one of the poorest in the state. You know, the lowest average median income and the highest asthma rate, and we’re trying to protect those people.”
Asthma risks increase for underprivileged communities as fine dust leaches into the air from the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline, according to Pacific Institute. More than 100 tons of dust per day could be released into the air by 2045 if the shorelines are allowed to recede at the current rate, the institute reported.
Restoration programs for the Salton Sea were linchpin issues for IID back in December when the organization tentatively agreed to sign the DCP, Schettler said. The DCP is a multi-state agreement that ensures that states from the Lower Colorado River Basin will agree to store set volumes of water in Lake Mead if the lake reaches certain levels.
Last Tuesday, the Coachella Valley Water District signed the DCP by a unanimous vote. The pact has already been approved by Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.