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Public’s input sought on state of Salton Sea and proposed fixes

A public meeting to decide what fixes might be applied to change the fate of the dying Salton Sea — and how much taxpayer money should be spent on the effort — will be held Tuesday morning in North
Shore, hosted by a committee chaired by Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez.

“I’m glad we’re having this meeting in North Shore, which is where our efforts are centered on in providing a safe and stable Salton Sea, protecting public health and the environment and creating economic, tourism and recreation opportunities,” Perez said. “I am excited to hear the presentations and reveal the project plans we have been working on for the northern shore of the Salton Sea.”

The Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Authority was formed in 2018 at Perez’s urging. Along with the Fourth District supervisor, Supervisors Jeff Hewitt and Chuck Washington are members of the authority, along with Coachella Valley residents Kari Middleton Hendrix and Pedro Rincon.

The goal is to fund improvements on the north side of the expiring lake using the EIFD, which is a special tax district. Those who reside within it are given the opportunity to vote on whether they should be taxed.

EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects. A district relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.

The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club Community Center, 99-155 Sea View Drive.

Perez, whose district encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating bond measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving what’s left of the receding 360-square-mile lake, the bulk of which lies in neighboring Imperial County.

The proposed EIFD would be located between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.

Perez’s plan for conserving the landmark entails creating an in-sea barrier and fortifications that control water loss and deepen the lake. The concept was adopted last year as part of the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.

Sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.

“The state has used … monies to produce more studies and plans for restoration, yet nothing has been decided,” according to an Executive Office statement from last October.

Officials pointed out that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but with no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing
proactive done, according to the Executive Office.

Proposition 66, the $4-billion water bond measure approved by voters in June 2018, set aside $200 million for Sea projects. If the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.

In September 2012, then-Supervisor Marion Ashley called for the state to “step aside” and allow the regionally managed Salton Sea Authority to oversee restoration plans.

The supervisor was frustrated by inaction that had permitted the sea to erode to the point of eutrophication, killing off animal and plant life because of extreme salinity, which in turn created conditions for a sulphuric stench that wafted eastward across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin.

Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.

For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, 2018, leaving the future ecology of the area in doubt.

In August, the county appropriated nearly $2 million for a project to dredge dirt and debris out of the north marina, covering a 6.5-acre space, which would facilitate recreational boating, creating economic benefits.

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