A Requiem for the Sea

Updated: Jan 15

Those following CURE's "What Price Water" series know we have fought for environmental justice and restoration on the Salton Sea for over 20 years.  In 2018, the State Water Resources Control Board yet again allowed IID to continue transferring water from the Sea to San Diego ostensibly because the State of California had FINALLY adopted a meager "ten year plan" to mitigate the shrinking sea.  The County of Riverside also has embarked upon a bond financing scheme to save small areas of the north shore near Coachella and Palm Desert with optimistic projections that this infrastructure finance district will spark development generating enough money to fund the restoration.  

Over 15 years ago, IID was forced to transfer 300,000 acre feet of water to the coast over the objection of CURE, Imperial farmers and the local community.  Today, landowners no longer fight against more transfers because, in the end, they got paid generously to "farm" water.  IID now proposes diverting another 250,000 acre feet for storage in Lake Mead, the levels of which are so low as to threaten water reliability in Nevada, Arizona and California. See: COLORADO RIVER: Metropolitan Committee hears more details on the Drought Contingency Plan. But this short-term "emergency" merely opens the door for Lake Mead to serve as a water bank allowing IID and Imperial farmers to market water in the future.

The big losers are the Pacific Flyway and communities surrounding the sea. 

Over the years, CURE has reported on the significant decrease in bird life and biodiversity as the sea dries and the increased asthma and other diseases suffered by the locals.  Ultimately, the exposed playa will destabilize agriculture in imperial because of increase salinity from contaminated dust blowing on crops, and it will impact the tourist industry in the Coachella Valley.  

Ronald Reagan observed that the Sea was a pending disaster when he was governor in the 1970s.  That disaster was accelerated and worsened by the greed and short-sightedness.  Indeed, the same people who promoted the water transfers and downplayed the impacts to the Sea are now capitalizing on the new "restoration opportunities" including Tom Levy, the former head of the Coachella Valley Water District, and Rodney Smith, the economist who posited how water transfers would benefit the Imperial Valley.  

CURE's mantra is "Your Future Your Choice".  Most leaders have chosen to ignore the now demonstrated likelihood that in decades the Sea's impacts may overtake the region.  That being said, some minor accomplishments occurred in 2018.  CURE threatened litigation to set aside the 10-year plan which lead the State and IID to agree to reconnect the canals in Desert Shores to the Sea.

We're still waiting to see something tangible.  And the Torres Martines Tribe is building wetlands.  These small accomplishments are trumpeted as a long-awaited indication that the parties are finally working together.  Perhaps that truth and when the real impacts rapidly materialize in light of the full ramp up of water diversions, the responsible parties somehow will finally be response. 

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Citizens United for Resources and the Environment (CURE) is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization (tax identification number 95-4830802 under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and founded in 1997. Donations are tax-deductible as allowed by law.