Governor’s Announcement of Funding for the Salton Sea Is a Positive Sign

An image of the Salton Sea’s southern shore with a geothermal plant in the background.

This week, Governor Newsom announced major investments in water resiliency and drought funding under his $10 billion “California Comeback” plan that includes $220 million for the Salton Sea. This is a critical gesture toward helping to address the needs of the Salton Sea, and an important sign of a renewed commitment by the state to implement a restoration program. That new funding, when joined with approximately $400 million already allocated for the state’s Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), represents a step toward fully funding the SSMP’s Phase I: 10-Year Plan. That is assuming the $220 million will be assigned to the SSMP, which is anticipated to be the case.

An image of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who this week announced funding for water resiliency and to address the ongoing drought, including funding for the Salton Sea.

We applaud the governor for taking this step and recognizing the importance of the sea. We also remain hopeful that this step comes in addition to the placement of a resiliency water bond on ballots in 2022 that would include another $200 million for Salton Sea restoration. However, it currently remains unclear if the governor’s sweeping actions this week will come in place of a 2022 water bond. Time will tell. For now, there is reason to celebrate this action and hope for more funding to come for the sea.

The announcement from the governor comes as there is momentum building at the sea, most notably construction beginning on the state’s proof of concept project, the Species Conservation Habitat, which will provide nearly 4,000 acres of fish habitat, support the migratory bird population, and cover exposed playa. Other projects are moving forward as well, both in the form of dust suppression projects and habitat projects. This momentum carries with it an important message—that the sea is a critical issue and a part of the Colorado River system, that it has not been forgotten or abandoned, and that the effort to address the needs of the environment and protect the surrounding communities is going to continue.

This blog, in its focus on the positives at the sea, is not meant to lessen or downplay concerns that have been raised. The Salton Sea is an incredibly complex issue, and the restoration effort continues to be behind the mark that was established in November 2017 as part of a Stipulated Order adopted by the State Water Resources Control Board. However, it is worth underscoring—by celebrating the governor’s announcement and the momentum—that every stakeholder involved with the sea remains committed to achieving a positive outcome at the Salton Sea. As additional resources become available, and with the ongoing commitment of stakeholders, a positive outcome will become increasingly within reach.

We all must find ways to work together toward that shared interest in the sea. Keep in mind, the effort doesn’t end with the governor’s announcement or the restoration steps currently under way. The restoration effort is just beginning. We all must remain engaged as the SSMP moves forward through Phase I and, over the next year, as work begins to identify what long-term restoration at the sea will look like. It’s also important to note that as the state moves forward with its restoration program, separately the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) Joint Powers Authority, made up of the Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District, and the state will continue to implement an air quality mitigation program aimed at addressing the specific impacts of the QSA, in particular at the sea. Though the QSA JPA environmental mitigation program and the state’s larger restoration efforts are distinct from each other, they are complementary and can work hand in hand as goals align.

As said earlier, the issues surrounding the Salton Sea are complex and date back decades. Recognizing they will take time to resolve, we should also take the time to recognize the positives as that is what brings hope—and there is every reason to have hope for a positive future for the sea.

Stay tuned for more updates.