SACRAMENTO –A state audit of the management of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund was approved last week by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) at the request of Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez. The request garnered strong, bipartisan support, passing with a vote of 7-0 (Assembly) and 5-0 (Senate).
Located in Imperial County and bordering the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea is facing a long-term and costly restoration due to the effects of a receding shoreline. Its deterioration will accelerate rapidly with the implementation of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), the state’s largest rural-to-urban water transfer that will decrease water levels at the Sea dramatically beginning in 2017. By 2018, it is estimated that decreased water inflows to the Sea will cause the Sea’s depth to fall by five feet, exposing up to 26.5 square miles of currently submerged lakebed. The Imperial and Coachella Valleys, which already fail to meet state and federal ambient air quality standards, are likely to experience significant, adverse impacts related to public health, agricultural production, and the environment.
“The Salton Sea Restoration Fund is the primary vehicle for the State to meet its mitigation and restoration obligations under the QSA, and therefore it’s essential that the Fund is being properly managed,” said Pérez. “The purpose of this audit is to determine whether the current management of the Fund will enable the State to meet its statutory responsibilities and to identify if any corrective actions needed.”
Acknowledging the impacts the water transfer would have on the Salton Sea region, the QSA made the State liable for mitigating the impacts of the water transfer on the Sea, including the cost of restoring the Sea to historical levels for fish and wildlife, a potentially multi-billion dollar effort. To meet this obligation, the State created the Salton Sea Restoration Fund to finance the relevant environmental and engineering studies needed to develop a restoration plan for the Salton Sea, as well as to implement interim conservation measures to protect fish and wildlife dependent on the Sea.
“To date, roughly $32 million have been expended by the Fund, and yet we have no realistic restoration plan,” said Pérez. “Why? My hope is that this audit will help us get to the bottom of the issue. At the same time, if additional monies are made available to the Restoration Fund, we need to be sure the management is appropriate to meet the state’s responsibilities and commitments to the Salton Sea.”
At last week’s hearing, Pérez requested that JLAC approve a comprehensive audit of how the resources in the Restoration Fund have been managed thus far, including: an analysis of the organizational structure and level of coordination between the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR); an analysis of how staff time, resources and work are prioritized among the departments; and an analysis of any short or long-term plan that may exist to ascertain if it will fulfill the goals and objectives of the Fund.
The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, covering 365 square miles in the desert of Southern California and rests in close proximity to thousands of residents and some of the state’s most fertile agricultural land. It also serves as a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south migratory route used by over 400 species of birds.