After Imperial County declared a state of emergency at the Salton Sea, hoping to pressure California Gov. Gavin Newsom to take action, state officials responded with a letter this month promising the state would allocate $220 million toward Salton Sea projects in the upcoming year’s budget.
That sounded like good news. But what the letter didn’t say was that those funds hinge on the passage of a $4.75 billion bond measure that Newsom’s administration hopes will be on the November 2020 ballot. And that measure isn’t even officially on the ballot yet — the state legislature still needs to act.
When Newsom unveiled his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, he emphasized the state’s healthy $18 billion rainy day fund and ability to use its projected $5.6 billion surplus to expand programs like Medicare for undocumented seniors. None of the surplus was allocated to the Salton Sea, despite the state’s commitments.
The $220 million from the proposed “climate resilience bond” would go to fund the Salton Sea Management Program, a 10-year plan that state and local officials agreed to almost three years ago. The plan envisions restoring thousands of acres of habitat for birds and other species while working on other projects to limit contaminated dust blowing from the evaporating sea.
But the initial phase of the plan has faced delays and has yet to start, despite optimism and promises from lawmakers.
Local officials now say they are worried that relying on a new bond measure for more funding will mean the SSMP will face more of bureaucratic delays they’ve been protesting. Imperial Irrigation District Board President Norma Sierra Galindo said she was not even “cautiously optimistic” about the unsecured funds.
“I cannot, as the director and chairman of this board, put all my eggs in one basket and think that, come November, we’re going to be $220 million richer for the Salton Sea,” she said. “What I can hope for is that if this bond measure doesn’t pass, that Governor Newsom will do something else that’s a little more promising and productive for us.”