State Board Holds Workshop on IID Salton Sea Petition

On March 18, 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board held a workshop to receive public input on the future of the Salton Sea.  Although no final decisions were made at this workshop, it provided the vital opportunity for a multitude of parties to relay their positions.

The workshop came about because of a petition filed by the Imperial Irrigation District (“IID”) last November.   IID requested a reevaluation of the Board’s 2002 water right order approving IID’s long-term transfer to San Diego County Water Authority in order to force state action on Salton Sea restoration and funding.  (For a more extensive explanation and analysis of the IID petition, see “Imperial Irrigation District Petitions State Board for Salton Sea Restoration,” JOW, January 2015).

IID’s issue is the soon-to-expire requirement to transfer water to the Salton Sea to mitigate salinity impacts of the district’s long-term transfers.  Salinization, and accordingly the formation of eutrophic conditions, occurs naturally in the Salton Sea as there are no outlets. The salinity of the Salton Sea must be actively controlled to support productive fisheries, recreational uses, and fish-eating bird species, several of which are threatened or endangered. Ninety percent of the freshwater inflow to the sea is agricultural drain water from the Imperial Valley.

IID’s petition is opposed by Coachella Valley Water District (“CVWD”), who supports restoration of the Salton Sea, but believes that modifying the water rights order could jeopardize the long-term transfer under which it receives 103,000 AF per year from IID.  (For additional information on CVWD’s opposition, see “Coachella Says No to IID Petition but Yes to Salton Sea Restoration,” JOW, February 2015).

Policy issues explored at the workshop centered on whether the relief requested by IID is appropriate.  The Board cites three reasons why the requested relief may not be appropriate:

  1. While the long-term water transfers have the potential to exacerbate air and water quality problems, the problems would still exist without the transfers.
  2. Under the California Water Action Plan, Salton Sea restoration efforts are to be led by the Natural Resources Agency, in partnership with the Salton Sea Authority—which implies that the Board is not the appropriate venue, since it is a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
  3. “[M]aking approval of the transfer contingent on restoration of the Salton Sea has the potential to unravel the complex series of agreements that make up the QSA, which would have significant water supply implications for the State.”

The Board, however, recognized that the issue of Salton Sea restoration is one with statewide impacts and used the workshop to gather input on whether there is a role for the Board that would be consistent with the California Water Action Plan and would avoid jeopardizing the QSA-related water supply benefits.
Written by Stratecon Staff