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2018 Farm Bill Advances Salton Sea Conservation

 

Last updated 12/25/2018 at 1:32pm



The Senate passed the final 2018 Farm Bill yesterday and included far reaching Drought legislation secured by Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and supported by Senator Harris (D-CA) and Congressman Ruiz (D-CA).

Senator Feinstein’s legislation would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to greatly expand and accelerate funding investments at the Salton Sea, and would authorize additional conservation investment in system and on farm conservation improvements.

All told, the USDA programs modified by Senator Feinstein’s legislation to make the Salton Sea broadly eligible for funding authorized by the USDA to spend over $4 billion annually on conservation. This is firm federal funding that does not require further congressional action once it is locked in through the five-year Farm Bill.

While these funds are eligible for use nationwide, USDA has a long history of targeting such funding to urgent natural resource concerns of regional or national significance.

The Salton Sea Authority (SSA), California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association (IVVGA), Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Imperial Valley Farm Bureau (IVFB) and Cultivating Conservation are currently implementing a $7.5 million USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project at the Salton Sea. This work may now be significantly expanded through the funding and tools provided by the Feinstein legislation and added to the 2018 Farm Bill. SSA, CNRA, IVVGA, IID, the Torres Martinez Tribe, Imperial and Riverside counties, Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD), IVFB and Cultivating Conservation worked over the past several years with Senator Feinstein on this important new legislation.

SSA Executive Director Phil Rosentrater commended Senator Feinstein for her work on the legislation: “Senator Feinstein is a true Salton Sea champion. We are deeply appreciative of her steadfast work to protect the public health, economic security and environmental quality of the Imperial and Coachella valleys.”

CNRA Assistant Secretary for the Salton Sea Bruce Wilcox stated: “Senator Feinstein has made it possible to double the State of California’s significant financial commitments at the Salton Sea. If the federal government steps up to work with us as a funding partner, we will have the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP) 10-year plan fully funded thanks to her leadership.”

Overall, the Farm Bill provides roughly $6 billion in firm annual funding for conservation directly on working farmland, but prior to Senator Feinstein’s successful 2018 Farm Bill legislation this funding could not be used to advance conservation work on irrigation district lands like the Salton Sea playa. Senator Feinstein’s legislation removes this limitation and authorizes USDA to contract directly with IID or CNRA through an expedited procedure to advance habitat and air quality improvements directly on the Salton Sea playa.

The Feinstein legislation includes several other provisions of benefit to the Salton Sea, including providing funding for a critical water conservation infrastructure program, the authority to expand the Salton Sea RCPP project, improved cost share for certain conservation measures, authorization of special Drought conservation agreements, and targeting provisions to prioritize funding for environmental resources impacted by regional Drought concerns. On Monday Dec. 10, the IID board voted 4 – 1 to condition the approval of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) now under consideration among the seven Colorado River Basin states.

One key condition imposed by the IID was to secure a firm and irrevocable federal commitment to provide 1:1 federal to state funding to complete CNRA’s SSMP 10-year plan. The board also included a similar condition to require a federal commitment at the same funding ratio to mitigate any future public health or environmental impacts associated with DCP.

Kay Pricola, Executive Director of IVVGA noted: “The passage of the Farm Bill will remove any doubt that the federal government has the financial ability and legal authority to step up and satisfy one of the critical DCP conditions crafted and approved yesterday by the IID board. The only question now is whether the federal government will meet us half way at the Salton Sea?”

The federal government is a major Salton Sea landowner and is legally obligated to ensure that the management of federal lands complies with federal, state and local public health and environmental laws.

While the federal government has made funding commitments to the Salton Sea, those commitments have not been met due to the lack of adequate financial resources.

The Farm Bill Drought legislation secured by Senator Feinstein provides both the authority and ample financial resources to secure federal investment at the Salton Sea to match State of California Salton Sea funding.

The 2018 Farm Bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives later this week and to be enacted into law before the end of the year.

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