Valley Voice: Moving toward a restored Salton Sea
Imagine a busy emergency department. An ambulance delivers a patient with a severely broken leg that is bleeding profusely. In order to save the patient, the doctors must set priorities: first address the life-threatening problem (the profuse bleeding), and then go on to repair the fracture and rebuild the leg.
Now imagine that the patient is the Salton Sea, hemorrhaging noxious dust from the receding shoreline into our valley’s air. First we have to stop the hemorrhage, and then we have to rebuild the lake. And the longer we wait to act, the costlier it becomes to fix the problem, harming the public’s health and the economic well-being of our communities.
For too long, there’s been study after study but no concrete action. That changes now.
Today at the Red Hill Bay, on the southern tip of the Sea where the dust exposure is greatest, we began work on the first large scale project to help prevent the dust exposure.
In essence, we have acted to stop the bleeding.
For decades, the Salton Sea has been receding, threatening to expose dust particles containing selenium, arsenic, and pesticides. When inhaled by people, the particles can cause respiratory distress, especially in children and seniors, many of who have inadequate access to healthcare. And, the health hazards and noxious odors reduce home values and harm our tourism industry, costing billions of dollars.
I believe that the patient can not only survive, but thrive. My vision is to transform the threat into an opportunity to spur renewable energy and tourism. We must do it in a collaborative phased approach. Federal, state, and local agencies as well as private industries, philanthropists and tribes must work together to develop abundant geothermal, solar, and biofuel energy potential as well as beachfront and water sports attractions.
In December 2012, I presented my vision to Sen. Barbara Boxer and then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I hosted meetings and briefings, convened round-table discussions with high-level federal and state officials, and sent more than a dozen letters to key decision makers. I fought for Salton Sea restoration to be included in the president’s budget and, with bipartisan support, introduced budget amendments on the House floor to keep the project moving forward, starting with Red Hill Bay.
The Red Hill Bay Restoration Project is important because it is the first large-scale dust mitigation venture that proves that habitat restoration can be done in harmony with renewable energy development. The project will cover 420 acres of dust with water, and create geothermal energy access corridors and well pads for future renewable energy development. In addition, the project model can be replicated and guide future restoration efforts. And, it shows private investors that we are ready to develop public-private partnerships to facilitate renewable energy development while covering newly exposed lakebed.
The Red Hill Bay project was collaborative effort between Sens. Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Juan Vargas, state Sen. Ben Hueso, Assembly member Eduardo Garcia, Supervisor John Benoit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), the State of California, and the Salton Sea Authority. This shows that by working together we can achieve results and make progress towards a bigger vision.
Imagine a Salton Sea that hosts the largest renewable energy industrial park in the nation, bringing jobs to our local economy, while preserving wildlife habitat, stabilizing the shoreline, and mitigating the noxious dust our children are exposed to. Imagine a Salton Sea that attracts tourism and visitors to our communities. That is my vision for the Salton Sea and today we, as a community, took the first step to making this vision a reality.
Congressman Raul Ruiz represents the 36th District. Email him at Rep.Ruiz@mail.house.gov.