SACRAMENTO (CN) - Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law a bill to protect the shrinking Salton Sea, and Californians who suffer from the dust from it.
As the accidental lake's water levels continue to fall, exposing large swaths of dry lakebed that plague Imperial and Riverside County residents with dust, Brown said Assembly Bill 1095 will boost recovery efforts and improve air quality.
"The Salton Sea has a long and storied history in California and with these key restoration projects, the state is helping protect air quality, while maintaining a viable water supply in the region," Brown said.
The bill commits the state's Natural Resources Agency to restoring up to 12,000 acres of shoreline habitat by 2020 and an additional 25,000 acres of exposed shoreline starting in 2020. It establishes a scientific advisory committee to ensure that restoration is guided by the best available science.
Introduced in February by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, AB 1095 originally contained a provision to appropriate money to a Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Fund. That provision was removed in favor of a list of "shovel-ready" restoration projects, in the final stages of planning and permitting.
As amended, the bill passed in the Assembly by 78-0, then in the state Senate by 80-0 on Sept. 1.
The restoration initiatives are based on recommendations from the Salton Sea Task Force, which was convened in May to study the issue. The task force of 16 community members and experts from California Natural Resources and the state Environmental Protection Agency met with tribal and community leaders, federal agencies and water districts to develop key objectives to restore habitat and protect air quality without depleting the Colorado River water supply.
Among other things, the bill tasks the Natural Resources Agency with prioritizing restoration projects that also contribute to local economic development, improving public outreach, and meeting short-term restoration goals of habitat creation and dust suppression that will establish the framework for long-term goals, such as addressing playa exposure and enabling the development of renewable energy projects around the sea.
The State Water Resources Control Board will oversee the program and work with the Colorado River Regional Water board to improve water quality, while the California Air Resources Board will work with local air districts to address air quality and mitigate dust pollution.
Brown appointed Bruce Wilcox assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the Natural Resources Agency to oversee habitat restoration.
Spanning 350 square miles across Riverside and Imperial counties, the Salton Sea is California's largest lake. It was accidentally created in 1905 when spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed through a canal and flooded the Imperial Valley, which is below sea level. Water gushed from the river for 18 months until engineers sealed the breach in 1907, and the Salton Sea was born, 45 miles long and 20 miles wide.
Resorts popped up along the shoreline in the ensuing decades and the sea became a vacation mecca for celebrities, including Guy Lombardo, Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra. The famous Desert Beach resort is now underwater and known as the Sunken City.
The Salton Sea still attracts tourists who come to boat, water ski and kayak, and campers, bird watchers, photographers and hikers.
Saltier than the Pacific Ocean but less salty than Great Salt Lake, the sea is home to several species of fish, especially the hardy tilapia, as well as kit foxes, bighorn sheep and hundreds of species of migratory birds.
The lake was historically sustained by agricultural runoff, but decreased water supply and changes in Colorado River water allotment brought about by the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement have caused it to shrink steadily.
Assemblyman Garcia could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
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