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State Pressured To Take Action On Restoring Salton Sea

Birds gather on a small spot of water surrounding trees supporting heron nests in the midst of the blight that has become the Salton Sea, Dec. 27, 2010.
Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press
Birds gather on a small spot of water surrounding trees supporting heron nests in the midst of the blight that has become the Salton Sea, Dec. 27, 2010.

Imperial Valley water officials are pressuring the state to take action on restoring the Salton Sea to avert what they say is "an emerging environment and public-health crisis."

The Imperial Irrigation District submitted a petition to the State Water Resources Control Board Tuesday urging it to require the state to work with the necessary parties to come up with a restoration and funding plan for the Salton Sea within the next six months.

The Salton Sea, California's largest lake, is in Imperial and Riverside counties. Over the years, as the sea has shrunk and the seabed has become exposed, the risk to the public's health has grown. Every windy day stirs up contaminated particulates from the seabed, worsening the air quality in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

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Officials are appealing to the state water board because it has authority over a water transfer deal that sends water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

As part of the transfer deal, the irrigation district puts water in the Salton Sea to offset the effect of the water transfer on the sea. This water is generated by fallowing Imperial Valley agricultural fields. The district will stop putting this water in the sea in 2017.

"The mitigation water delivered to the sea under the original state board order ends in 2017 and the state is no closer to implementing a restoration plan today than it was in 2003," Imperial Irrigation District board President Jim Hanks said in a news release. The water transfer deal was approved in 2003.

"At this point, the last, best forum available to IID's water users and the people of the Imperial and Coachella valleys is the State Water Resources Control Board, which has the authority and the duty to act on what we believe is a mater of the highest possible importance and urgency," Hanks said.

The consequences could be dire if the board does not take action on the district's petition, said Jennifer Goodsell, Imperial Irrigation District chief of staff.

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"If they don't take up the issue, they have a legitimate public health crisis looming on the horizon," Goodsell said.

With their petition, Imperial Valley officials are trying to force the state to create a plan to restore the Salton Sea within the next six months. After the six months, they want the water control board to condition the water transfers to San Diego and the Coachella Valley on the state satisfying its obligation to restore the sea.