Salton Sea problematic in Colorado River drought plan

Salton Sea dead fish

The Salton Sea is in the Imperial Irrigation District in California. It is a very weird place. The Sea is salt water, below sea level, hugely polluted by agricultural runoff and industrial waste, has periodic fish kills, is a major migratory route for birds, and is in desperate shape. Enter the Colorado River drought plan. Seven states needed to have a plan by yesterday, else the feds will intervene. Arizona and California are close but not compliant yet.

The IID gets 20% of the water from the Colorado River because their water rights are so senior. They have not put forth a plan yet because they want $200 million in federal money remediate the Salton Sea. They are absolutely playing hardball. However, the Salton Sea needs major money to resuscitate it. If it dries up, toxic dust will blow everywhere. Seriously.


Arizona passed their Colorado River drought contingency bill last night, hours before the federally mandated deadline. This is a big deal, and took a lot of cooperation between rival factions. Well done! However, the seven states that use Colorado River water need to have a plan, else the feds will do it for them.

To give an idea of the complexity just within one state, here’s how agreement was reached in Arizona.

The Gila River Indian Community, for stepping forward with enough “wet” water to make the deal work.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes, for fallowing enough land (and therefore saving enough water) to replenish what we have previously stored in Lake Mead.

Pinal County farmers, for vastly paring down the amount of water they could live with.

Tucson, for coming up with even more water to resolve a key sticking point.

Feds: Drought plan, “close isn’t done.”

Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said there has been tremendous progress toward a deal, including the Arizona Legislature’s quick passage of drought legislation before a Thursday night deadline. But she said that doesn’t change the fact that the states haven’t completed the Drought Contingency Plan for the river’s lower basin, which aims to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to perilously low levels.

“Neither California nor Arizona have completed all of the necessary work,” Burman told reporters on a conference call. “Close isn’t done.”

Imperial Irrigation District

IID issued a news release on Thursday afternoon, thanking Feinstein for her support of the Salton Sea funding and saying it “comes at a critical time when states along the Colorado River have been working on … the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.”

Board President Erik Ortega said, “This isn’t an either/or proposition for IID; it is instead an honest effort by the district to improve the sustainability of the Salton Sea and to ensure the viability of the DCP (drought contingency plan).”

In its statement, IID said the $200 million pledge it requested “would represent a firm commitment to the environment, public health, water supply reliability, the agricultural industry and the future resiliency of the Colorado River.”

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