Supervisor: State Should `Step Aside' and Let Locals Restore Salton Sea

POSTED: 01:18 AM PDT Sep 14, 2012 

Following confirmation that a wretched odor smelled by residents throughout Southern California originated at the Salton Sea, a Riverside County supervisor today called on the governor and lawmakers to "step aside" and permit local restoration of the sea to move ahead.

"At this point, the sea is receding, the ecosystem is dying, and the air is becoming increasingly noxious," said Supervisor Marion Ashley, who serves as chairman of the Salton Sea Authority. "In spite of these growing problems, the state refuses to lead the restoration planning effort or yield the lead to the local authorities (who) are committed to developing a feasible action plan."

Ashley released a two-page statement that began with a warning that the sulphuric fumes that wafted across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin
Sunday night and Monday would be "nothing" compared with what might emanate from the sea in the future.

"As the sea recedes, plagues of powdery air-born dust are destined to descend upon the residents of Southern California, choking people, pets and plant life," Ashley said. "While the solutions will require capital investment and ongoing expense, doing nothing is the most costly of all options."

According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors pollution levels in the region, the rotten-egg odor was the product of decaying organic matter, including dead plants and sea life, resulting in elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Thunderstorms over the inland desert moved west, carrying the malodor with them.

The AQMD said there was no health threat posed by the fumes.

According to Ashley, the experience serves as a "pungent reminder" of why the Salton Sea Authority, a quasi-regulatory body made up of officials from Riverside and Imperial counties, should be freed to take charge of a tentative "restoration action plan" conceived more than six years ago.

"The resources appear to be in hand, the locals are united and willing to forge ahead with a new plan," Ashley said. "They just need cooperation and support, instead of neglect and exploitation from the state and federal government.
"Instead of pitching in to help the locals, the state remains intransigent.

Meanwhile, public health and safety risks continue to grow as the receding Salton Sea shoreline imperils the environmental and economic health of the region."

The 365-square-mile sea -- the largest part of which lies in Imperial County, with the north portion stretching to within a few miles of Thermal -- has been plagued with increasing salinity over the last 40 years, to the point that some of the sea's deeper places are saltier than the ocean.

Moreover, according to studies, nutrient compounds from agricultural runoff have created a "eutrophic" condition where high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia kill fish and produce gagging odors.

Water reclamation plans by local agencies and Mexico, as well as a reduction of Colorado River supplies, will exacerbate the situation and shrink the sea in the coming years, according to the Salton Sea Authority.

Ashley said the state has been aware of the sea's precarious condition for decades and came up with a $9 billion strategy to preserve the century-old
body of water, where some 400 bird species congregate annually. However,
despite local agencies setting aside $133 million for a mitigation effort, the
Legislature has failed to commit any funds.

The supervisor noted that the most recent budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown abolished the Salton Sea Restoration Council, which existed in name only but had been established to identify a process by which to begin restoration.

"It is time for the state to step aside and yield the reins to the Salton Sea Authority, the local entity that is committed to resolving this issue of critical concern to all who hope to breathe freely in a healthy environment and strong economy," Ashley said.