It is important for the public to understand what’s at stake in the current (Quantification Settlement Agreement) litigation and why the Imperial Irrigation District board’s attempts to resolve the litigation are so important. It is also important for the public to understand the relationship between the QSA and the state of California’s obligation to restore the Salton Sea.
As I am sure everyone is well aware, the QSA water transfers will significantly reduce the elevation of the Salton Sea, exposing thousands of acres of shoreline, which presents significant threats to this region’s air quality and the health and welfare of those of us living here.
This proposal was deemed unacceptable to the IID board at that time and over the course of the following year, in an effort spearheaded by then-Director Bruce Kuhn, a new proposal was crafted whereby 1) only 15 years of fallowing was required to produce mitigation water for the Salton Sea; 2) a joint powers authority consisting of IID, the San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, and the state of California was created to mitigate the impacts of water transfers; and 3) the state of California agreed to undertake the restoration of the Salton Sea with limited contributions from the other parties. This proposal was supported by the adoption of three bills by the state Legislature, one of which was titled “The Salton Sea Restoration Act.”
For many in the Imperial Valley at that time, the state’s commitment to restore the Salton Sea was the linchpin to its support of the QSA water transfers.
Subsequent to the approval of the QSA and as required by the QSA legislation, the Secretary of the Resources conducted a study to determine a preferred alternative for restoring the Salton Sea. After many months of collaborative discussions with various stakeholders, the secretary adopted a preferred alternative in 2007 consisting of a concentric dike system, which provided for a stable shoreline around the sea. The cost of this alternative was estimated at $9 billion with an annual operation and maintenance cost of $140 million. Unfortunately, the Legislature’s appetite for funding this plan has been minimal in view of its cost and the state’s restoration efforts have since stalled.
Many of us who opposed the QSA back in 2003 when it was adopted were concerned that the state of California’s commitment to restoration might not be realized, leaving the residents of the Imperial Valley to bear the burden of mitigating the water transfers impacts on air quality and to the extent they are not mitigated the burden of living with degraded air quality.
These fears have been borne out over the past few years as it has become apparent that the state is not seriously interested in restoring the Salton Sea or addressing impending air quality concerns. Worse yet, some of the parties in the QSA litigation including the state have argued there is no such commitment.
In 2018, mitigation water to the Salton Sea will be discontinued and it will be allowed to recede. Because there is no restoration program on the horizon or other mitigation plans in place to address air quality impacts, those of us living in Imperial Valley should be very concerned about our future.
I am pleased to see that the current IID Board of Directors is taking this concern very seriously and making efforts to resolve it before it’s too late. The board has recently decided to pursue a strategy of mediation instead of litigation to resolve disagreements over the QSA and retained a new legal team who can hopefully provide new ideas and a fresh perspective to securing the health and well-being of those of us living here. For this they should be applauded.
Mike Abatti is an El Cenro resident.