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Salton Sea and the IID


Last updated 1/30/2017 at 4:12pm

Since President Trump's election a lot has happened for the Salton Sea. Or more to the point, hasn’t happened. As well as leaving out much needed funding from the budget for works required to continue improvements for wildlife and local residents, the Sea has become a sticking point for negotiations to finalise amendments to Minute 32x.

A 1944 treaty between the US and Mexico requires the United States to deliver 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to Mexico annually. As well as other important factors, it also states how those deliveries are reduced in years of exceptional Drought. The current agreement, Minute 319 expires at the end of 2017, which has led to negotiations over a new amendment, commonly referred to as Minute 32x. With U.S.- Mexico relations deteriorating, it may soon be impossible to come to an agreement in time.

Before Minute 32x can be finalized, the seven basin states need to finalize a Drought contingency plan (DCP), for what happens if, and when Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet. The Salton Sea will see its water intake reduced significantly by the end of 2017 due to the 2003 water transfer agreement. At the time of the agreement, California vowed to take action to address public health concerns, however after nearly 15 years, it has done very little. IID is a major player in the DCP negotiations because its users have water rights to 3.1 million acre-feet of the Colorado river's water. That's more than all of Arizona.

IID says it won't sign onto a DCP until it sees a plan from the state to address air pollution at the Salton Sea. "For IID to take part in a DCP for the Lower Basin," said IID General Manager Kevin Kelley, "we're going to have to know that we've got a coherent going-forward plan for at least the next 10 years."

California is working to come up with such a plan, according to state officials. But a big problem is cost. This has put IID and the Salton Sea in a critical position for progress on the Colorado River. "The Salton Sea went from being an issue that was on the back burner for a lot of people to the front of the line," said Douglas Kenney, director of the Western water program at the University of Colorado's Getches-Wilkinson Natural Resources Law Center.

Despite Trump's rough start with Mexico, some still see causes for optimism, stating that even the Israelis and Palestinians cooperate when it comes to managing water in the Middle East. The shift in politics doesn't change the fact that the reservoir system in the Colorado system is half-empty," said Jennifer Pitt of the National Audubon Society, who has been a key player in Colorado River negotiations for years. "What gives me confidence that there will be a path forward is there are seven states that really would like to see this sort of continued collaboration with Mexico in increasing the reliability of Colorado River water supply."

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