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Salton Sea Restoration Gets $80.5 Million In State Budget

It’s the most the state has ever given to California’s largest and most troubled lake

Photo credit: Associated Press

In this aerial photo exposed lake bed of the Salton Sea dries out near Niland, May 1, 2015.

The state budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week includes $80.5 million for restoration of the Salton Sea — more than California has ever allocated for the state's largest and most troubled lake.

“This is a great step in the right direction. I don’t think anyone, including the state, believes that this is enough to solve the problem, but it certainly starts us on the path of management techniques that can solve the problem,” said Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency.

The Salton Sea is 100 miles east of San Diego and is fed by runoff from Imperial County farms. A water transfer agreement that sends water from Imperial County farms to the San Diego region and the Coachella Valley has reduced the amount of water going into the sea. This has caused wildlife habitat to suffer and has increased the amount of airborne dust from the exposed land. This is expected to worsen when mitigation water is scheduled to stop going into the sea at the end of 2017.

Wilcox said the entire Salton Sea restoration program is estimated to cost $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion.

The $80.5 million allocated in the state's budget will fund the design and environmental documentation for the first phase of the Salton Sea Management Plan. It will also fund some construction, Wilcox said. The plan builds habitat around the edges of the sea, which would deal with the habitat issues and the human health issues associated with the dust.

Wilcox said construction is expected to begin next year on two pieces of the project funded by the state — 600 acres of species conservation habitat and 450 acres at Red Hill Bay.

The funding is coming from a water bond voters approved in 2014.

Wilcox said he thinks getting the funding in this year's budget will help the project secure more money in the future.

“We’re going to successfully complete what we’re planning, and that will give us a visible project that we can point to that the Legislature can look at and say, yes, indeed this is helping with the problems at the Salton Sea,” he said.

Wilcox said advocates for the sea are also looking into ways to get federal funding for the project.

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