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County board approves $350K to support Salton Sea rehab


Riverside County supervisors today approved the allocation of $350,000 from an environmental improvement fund to support efforts to restore the dying Salton Sea.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the supervisors authorized the disbursal from the Coachella Valley Air Quality Enhancement Fund to help pay for the planned north end restoration of the 360-square mile lake, which will include the establishment of a lagoon to overlay exposed playa and mitigate the resulting atmospheric impacts.

The enhancement fund was created in 1989 following the settlement of a lawsuit with Colmac Energy Inc. over trouble with a biomass plant in Mecca.

Money from the agreement was deposited into a specially designated account overseen by the Coachella Valley Air Quality Advisory Committee, which recommended that the Board of Supervisors use the $350,000 for Salton Sea rehab.

Supervisor Manuel Perez is pushing for restoration of the north end of the sea, the largest part of which is located in Imperial County.

Last year, the board initiated the process of establishing an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District to generate revenue for the north side improvements.

Perez's proposal for conserving the landmark, drawing on the expertise of individuals and groups that have been studying the issue for years, entails creating an in-sea barrier and fortifications that control water loss and deepen the lake. The concept was adopted as part of the state's 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.

By all accounts, sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.

The EIFD would 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 created 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 county Executive Office.

The proposed EIFD, which must be approved by voters within the proposed district, 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.

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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