The Imperial Irrigation District is taking a courageous step that the state and other water agencies aren’t willing to make for environmental mitigation at the Salton Sea, said Charles DuMars, an environmental attorney out of New Mexico.
“This board is taking the lead with San Diego as a partner … you’re taking the lead in doing something affirmative,” he told the Board of Directors on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s what you do with the petition now that will be the proof in the pudding.”
Plan B for the Quantification Settlement Agreement and in discussion about becoming a special adviser to the IID General Manager relating to Salton Sea mitigation issues, said petitioning the State Water Resources Control Board to allow for changes in current mitigation measures is a historic measure. Finally, people in Imperial Valley, San Diego, Coachella and other interested areas can have a forum to discuss the environmental issues at stake and can move forward in an affirmative way to solve the problems.
“It’s the entire future of the Valley at stake,” he said.
While DuMars put his initial support behind the state petition, others were hesitant to move forward with an agreement Tuesday between IID and San Diego County Water Authority over who would pay for environmental reviews to move that petition forward.
The IID Board of Directors held off on voting for the cost-sharing agreement, instead setting a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Feb. 1 to decide on the contract.
IID petitioned the state board in October to eliminate the district’s water transfer requirement sending mitigation water to the Salton Sea between 2014 and 2017. That water would instead be transferred and the proceeds would be used to develop habitat and air mitigation projects that district officials have said will have a better environmental impact in the long run.
If the IID just releases mitigation water into the Salton Sea, it doesn’t do anything for the air quality impacts or exposed playa, said IID General Manager Kevin Kelley.
“The petition is, in my view, the best course to force this issue in a venue where all the agencies and the state have to deal with the Salton Sea honestly and meaningfully in front of everyone else,” he said.
However, he praised the board on holding back for a week to make sure all the information is available and understood.
The state board petition is in response to questions about whether the state will fulfill its obligations to fund restoration of the Salton Sea based on the QSA, a set of agreements to send IID-entitlement water to coastal urban communities. In order to finalize the state petition, new environmental plans have to be in place.
The state petition doesn’t change the state obligation to fund restoration of the sea should it exceed what the water agencies have agreed to pay, said IID General Counsel Jeff Garber. It changes how the water agencies are mitigating impacts to the sea.
The Salton Sea water level is going down and salinity is high, which some are saying the QSA makes worse. Air quality is also a concern with more shoreline exposing dust and playa to the winds.
IID board members asked for more explanation of the agreement with SDCWA, saying the acronyms in the cost-sharing agreement are not defined and make the language hard to understand. A few slight changes were also made and a new agreement was handed out Tuesday.
Some in the crowd at the W.R. Condit Auditorium in El Centro cautioned the board on taking action now.
Mike Morgan, a farmer in Brawley, told the board not to rush into an agreement, because all the past agreements with other water agencies have not been well-formed.
In addition, former IID Director Bruce Kuhn, who was on the board when the QSA was signed, said that if the state isn’t fulfilling its contractual obligations in the QSA, he wants the local water agency to declare a breach of contract instead.
“I have no problem with making the QSA better, if in fact it’s going to be better,” he said. “But I have a gut feeling that when this is over, we may negotiate ourselves to where we’re responsible for that Salton Sea, and I don’t care how much money you’re going to get from a secondary transfer. …
“Whatever you do, don’t let the IID or any entity in this Valley, the county, IID or anyone from this Valley, be responsible for the Salton Sea,” he added. “There’s not enough money in the whole damn deal to figure out the Salton Sea.”