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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Salton Sea Failures Hurt California, Audit Shows

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - Failing to restore California's Salton Sea could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars as early as 2025, a new state audit shows.

Because of a 2003 agreement concerning water transfers between local water agencies requiring, Salton, the state's largest body of water, has experienced a significant decrease in the flow of water it receives.

The deal required local water agencies to contribute to a Salton Sea restoration fund in exchange for water transfers.

California has only received a fraction, however, of the $2.3 billion to $8.9 billion that restoring the sea is estimated to cost. A report issued Thursday by the Bureau of State Audits found that the restoration fund is projected to have received only $81.8 million by 2047.

The state will be responsible for all sea-related costs as early as 2025, according to the audit.

Lacking funding for restoration efforts, California has focused on "incremental" restoration projects, according to the report.

The Habitat Project, for example, "calls for the restoration of 3,770 acres of the sea - a small fraction of the roughly 200,000 acres the recommended alternative within the Preferred Alternative Report proposes to restore - at a cost of $132 million," the report states.

It continues that officials for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Water Resources "maintain that the funds currently in the Restoration Fund will only support restoration of 600 to 700 of those acres, at a cost of roughly $30 million."

Auditors recommend that California study possible restoration projects that would reduce the cost of mitigating the negative environmental impacts because of the decreasing water flow, including the loss of fishery habitat, exposure of soils to wind erosion, and declines in bird species because of the loss of food - and how to pay for these projects.

"It is imperative that the feasibility study also include viable funding options for the proposed restoration activities," the audit recommends.

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