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Imperial County Declares Emergency At Salton Sea

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The emergency declaration is aimed at forcing state and federal officials to take action to decrease the dust around the Salton Sea.

Speaker 1: 00:00 They say the promises made to Imperial County have not been kept. So County supervisors voted Tuesday to declare a local state of emergency over the environmental crisis at the salt and see the action is aimed at forcing state and federal officials to take action to decrease the dust around the Lake. The shoreline of California's largest Lake is receding and creating more dry Lake bed in part because of a water transfer between Imperial Valley and San Diego. Joining me to explain yesterday's unanimous vote by the supervisors is Imperial County board of supervisors. Chair Ryan Kelly and Ryan, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:41 Thank you for having me worried

Speaker 1: 00:43 this situation about the health hazards and dust pollution surrounding the salt and sea has been going on for years. So why declare an emergency now

Speaker 2: 00:52 over the last 18 years? Discussions over the QSA, the transfer of water that a lot of promises have been made. And uh, I guess, you know, you could, you could say that Imperial County has always been self-sufficient. We've been patient. We tried to raise the alarm in the past through the courts and through, um, validation of the QSA and working within the structure of the QSA. But still at this day, we don't have any action on the ground. So how this came about was I attended a solvency stakeholder meeting and um, as I was driving home, I came across an emergency that required highway one 11 to be rerouted around a natural Geyser that was encroaching on the highway. And the foreman took me and walked me through the project that they were doing on an emergency basis. And in that walk he told me that the only reason that they were able to do that work was because the County had declared an emergency and then made it available for Caltrans to expedite permitting and to make funds available to do the work. So I'm driving home from that site and I looking at the salt and see at the same time. And that's where I came to the idea that we should declare the assault and see a emergency and get the focus for permitting and procurement fast tracked.

Speaker 1: 02:23 Now, just just for clarification, you mentioned a QSA, what is that?

Speaker 2: 02:27 The quantification settlement agreement, which created the transfer of rural water to urban, uh, San Diego and Coachella. Both were beneficiaries of that transfer. It meant less water going into the salt and sea and it continued to grow when the QSA was agreed, the state water board made a minute order requiring mitigation waters for 15 years for the state of California to come up with a plan for restoration of the salt and sea. In that 15 years, they failed to make any headway or produce a plan until almost towards the end of the mitigation waters.

Speaker 1: 03:11 Your board heard a presentation last week on the impacts of the increasingly exposed shoreline of the sea. What did they tell you about that?

Speaker 2: 03:21 So the um, exposed Playa has grown significantly. I remember in 2012 we still had water in the keys and at red Hill Bay, uh, today you would have to drag a boat from red Hill Bay Marina over four football fields to be able to find water. The shore is receding fast and that particularly it is not just drainage from agricultural, but it's also um, pollutants coming from Mexicali, Mexico, that's in the soil. So right now we are bringing focus onto the particulate, the PM 10, uh, that is going to become airborne and is already reported and it will only grow. So our air pollution control, um, shared with us that 7% increase of Playa and the 41% increase of emissivity from that 7%.

Speaker 1: 04:21 And what time of health impact is this dust having on residents who live near the Salton sea who live in the whole County?

Speaker 2: 04:28 So Imperial County has the highest rate of pediatric asthma hospitalization in the state of California. We also have people that live close to the salt and sea in Bombay beach and the West shores area. And they've been living with that all these years. And as the sea recedes, we get more reports of asthma, chronic respiratory illness and nosebleeds, dry, nonproductive, coughs. So we're trying to raise the issue here. We've seen that a bird and fish habitat has been reduced and we've had a collar outbreak for the waterfowl this past winter. Um, we're seeing the impacts of inaction and we just can't be quiet any longer. We're not going to be patient and optimistic. We're going to be active and optimistic.

Speaker 1: 05:31 Um, I wonder, what do you hope the emergency declaration will do to speed up the process?

Speaker 2: 05:37 This declaration is meant to bring the attention of the governor directly into this conversation to recognize that this cannot be pushed off any farther. Direct action needs to happen. If you can build a stadium in Los Angeles and bypass some of the permitting issues for that, you should be able to do that for the salt and sea. In fact, even more so because of the environmental consequences of not taking action. If you're going to do an environmental review over something that is already an environmental hazard, then you're wasting time. I've been speaking with Imperial County supervisor, Ryan Kelly and Ryan. Thank you very much. Thank you, Maureen, for the opportunity.

Speaker 3: 06:26 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 06:27 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.