PALM DESERT — When it comes to the Salton Sea, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D., D-Palm Desert, is a pit bull. He moves with a sense of urgency.
Ruiz today, Feb. 19, sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging them to quickly implement the new Farm Bill and direct millions of dollars in new funding to conserve the Salton Sea. The money would supplement state and local efforts to address the severe environmental and public health consequences of the Sea’s decline.
The letter comes after Dr. Ruiz championed funding for drought mitigation in the 2018 Farm Bill signed into law last year, which for the first time made the Salton Sea eligible for dedicated USDA conservation funding.
“Our communities can’t afford for the government to drag its feet: we need federal funding now to protect the health of families living near the Salton Sea,” Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “The Salton Sea’s decline has already taken a toll on the respiratory health of children and seniors across our Valley, not to mention our local wildlife. I’m proud to have successfully advocated for millions of dollars in new funding—now it’s time for the federal government to act on its responsibility to protect the health of Americans.”
Ruiz shared the full text of the letter. It is included below:
Dear Secretary Perdue and Acting Secretary Bernhardt,
I urge you to expeditiously implement the new drought provisions included in the Farm Bill recently signed into law and commit to allocating federal funding to address the decline of the Salton Sea. Prompt implementation of these changes is essential to protecting the public’s health, the environment, and the agricultural livelihoods of individuals in the Coachella Valley and greater southern California.
As you know, the Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in California. The Sea is a critical element of the local agricultural economy and a key environmental landmark. However, due to decreased agricultural runoff, California’s chronic and historic drought, and other changes to inflows, the Salton Sea’s shoreline is rapidly receding and exposing residents as far away as Los Angeles to harmful dust from the uncovered lakebed.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is one of the largest landowners at the Salton Sea and is potentially liable should its decline continue to degrade air quality in the region. To address this, DOI is party to a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of California that seeks to mitigate this decline and improve conditions at the Sea, but to this date, DOI has failed to provide adequate support or follow-through on its funding commitments.
The Department of Agriculture is also engaged at the Salton Sea, supporting pilot projects with numerous Salton Sea stakeholders including the Imperial Irrigation District and the state of California. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress included bipartisan provisions to address the challenge posed by the drought through several conservation programs. These provisions provide an opportunity for USDA to expand these projects and conservation efforts and further leverage the $280 million that the state of California has committed to the 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.
Coupled with these drought provisions, the conference report to the Farm Bill directs USDA to use this new authority to reduce the impact of regional drought agreements on agricultural producers. In addition, this legislation increased the overall funding level for these conservation programs to allow for funding for drought mitigation efforts at the Salton Sea without negatively affecting other conservation efforts funding is presently used for.
The Salton Sea is a unique and challenging problem – one that requires stakeholders from all levels of government to work together. Especially as the Department of Interior seeks to finalize a drought contingency plan that would require voluntary water-use reductions by western water districts that could affect inflows to the Salton Sea, it is important that USDA use the authority provided by the Farm Bill to expand water conservation projects in the region.
The communities in and around the Salton Sea cannot afford to wait for the federal government to honor its commitments and do its part. By acting quickly to commit funding and implement the changes I spearheaded in the Farm Bill, the federal government can fulfill its promise to help mitigate the decline of the Salton Sea. I look forward to continuing to work with you to expand water conservation and drought mitigation efforts while protecting our community from the effects of the declining Salton Sea.
This concludes Ruiz’s letter.