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Salton Sea - Prudence or Prevarication

 

Last updated 8/19/2016 at 10:31am

Christopher Cockroft, an avid supporter and campaigner for the Salton Sea, has made public a letter he wrote to Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

The letter raises some good talking points. It also acts as a reminder of the importance for Salton Sea advocates and community members to attend meetings, workshops, conferences and events in order to keep driving home the message. Maintaining an active presence may help to prevent the meetings from being nothing more than a public display that delays the need make any actual progress. For the government there is money at stake but for the residents, there is their health at stake.

Dear Ms. Marcus,

"If nothing is done about the mitigation of existing impacts then we are going to have a catastrophe on our hands in terms of public health." (Brad Poirez, Imperial County Air Pollution Control District)

Those words were spoken years ago. They were prophetic. We now have a catastrophe. You and your predecessors at the State Water Resources Control Board are the directly responsible parties.

The QSA water transfer, empowered by WRO 20020013, caused this disaster. Among other things, salinity has skyrocketed to 58 ppt. The lake level has dropped 8 feet (16%). 11,000 acres of new playa is exposed. The Corvina fishery has been completely destroyed. This species is now extinct at the Salton Sea. Mullet Island rookery, its land bridge exposed, has been ruined by coyotes. There are increasing severe hydrogen sulfide episodes. Dust has gotten worse. Aesthetics have deteriorated significantly.

Last September California appointed Bruce Wilcox Assistant Secretary of Salton Sea Policy, and provided 2 million to the Salton Sea Authority to hire Dr. Bill Brownlee, their consultant in an earlier uninspiring effort, to write another plan (there had been at least 37 by others before this). Dr. Brownlee's hermetic ideas form the basis of the State's current short and medium term effort.

More or less simultaneously, the Salton Sea Management Program's Project Committee, meeting without public notice or input of any kind, picked over the State Department of Water Resources' financially bloated "no regrets" projects (see the State Perez audit) and wove them into a response that became the Garcia AB1095 report.

In September 2015, right after his appointment, I contacted Assistant Secretary Wilcox, trying to get on his listserv to participate in the dialog. I was told there was none. I asked to attend meetings. I was told they were private, for federal and state officials only--that there would be public meetings later.

At the time, I knew there was a danger that policy would be formed without public input. That turned out to be correct.

For five months I heard nothing, so I finally provided the Chair of the Salton Sea Management Program Public Outreach Committee with a list of places to publically post notifications of upcoming meetings, agendas and minutes (see attachment A)-she never did anything. I emailed the Assistant Secretary, asking him to be careful to include the public. I published a letter in The Desert Sun asking pointedly that State Salton Sea meetings be public. I was subsequently allowed to attend presentations by potential contributors to a Long Range Plan, but told comment was not allowed.

All of this went against the Bagley-Keene Act of California.

What happened to me can only be described as typical of what occurred in the planning process for the public at large. We were shut out. I think this is part of why the fruits of Brownlee's planning are not now supported by a majority of the people who live around the Sea. The affected citizens never had a chance to help develop them. It's also why they are incongruent with what needs to be done on the ground.

Even now, the public meetings being held across the State are pro forma, top-down lectures informing citizens of decisions. Speeches are given, comments are taken but nothing evolves. The State's response, as usual, is autocratic.

Dr. Brownlee's plan puts a Band-Aid on a whale. It admits to 65,000 acres (98 square miles) of exposed playa at build out. That's about the same size as the problem at Owens Lake when EPA sued in 1982. It's exorbitantly expensive (3 billion dollars). It doesn't begin to solve air quality issues in the least. And it's very ugly. It'll use up all the State's money and leave the residents in worse shape than they are now.

It's a colossal violation of the public's right to clean air and to the natural beauty the region inherently possesses. And, since the Salton Sea is the northern arm of the Colorado River delta (see attachment B), it enjoys these due to protections guaranteed under public trust law.

The problem is not going away in 2018 when the remedial water stops flowing. It's going to get much worse. And, it's going to continue for a long time. Until issues are really and truly solved at the Salton Sea, I continue to urge you to:

• limit water transfers until the State catches up with restoration:

• target a sea level that is sustainable and constant`

• base future water shipments on public trust values using the precedent your predecessors followed at Mono Lake 20 years ago using CEQUA to avoid adverse environmental impacts.

Thank you for this chance to respond.

Sincerely,

Chris Cockroft

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