Riverside Supervisors Contemplate $350 Million Tax for Salton Sea

A proposed tax district would help pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea if approved.

By California News Wire Services, News Partner | May 21, 2019 5:26 pm ET

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a four- month postponement of a meeting on a proposed tax district to pay for restoration of the upper half of the Salton Sea.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the Board of Supervisors moved the previously set June 11 meeting to Oct. 15, at the same location — the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club at 9115 Sea View Drive in Mecca.

The meeting time is currently set for 11 a.m. Any changes will be publicized.

According to Executive Office staff, the date change was necessary because drawing up specifics of how the proposed Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District will work requires additional time, and sending notices to everyone who may be impacted by the tax district has also proved to be a chore.

Supervisors Manuel Perez and Jeff Hewitt are seated on the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District Authority formed by the board last October. Both men are slated to attend the October meeting.

The Salton Sea EIFD will require voter support to be established.

EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects. The estimated cost of shoring up the north end of the receding 360-square-mile lake is $350 million, according to the Executive Office.

The proposed EIFD would be fixed between the Imperial County line to the south and the boundaries of Coachella and Indio to the north, as well as west to the city limit of La Quinta and roughly 40 miles east of state Route 111. Torres-Martinez tribal land would be exempt.

An EIFD relies on “tax increment” to pay off the bonds issued in support of it. Tax increment is generated by projects within specified locations that increase property values.

Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the Salton Sea’s north side, has been advocating measures to pay for projects aimed at preserving and fortifying what’s left of the dying lake, most of which is in Imperial County.

According to the Executive Office, the Salton Sea EIFD would ensure funding for an earthen dam to control water loss.

Sorting out what strategies to employ for preservation of the Salton Sea has been a two-decade process lacking results.

Executive Office staff pointed out in October that $25 million from Proposition 50 in 2006 was expended on research but no game plan for saving the Sea. Similarly, $400 million from Proposition 84 in 2014 was earmarked for projects to mitigate environmental damage from the shrinking body of water, but there was nothing proactive done.

Proposition 66, the $4 billion water bond measure approved by voters last June, set aside $200 million for Sea projects. If the state continues to tarry without applying funds to a fix, evaporation will continue, exposing more lakebed and raising public health risks, according to the county.

Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.

For 15 years, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to replenish some of the water drawn out of the sea in order to limit lakebed exposure, but that mitigation effort ended on Jan. 1, 2018, leaving the area’s future ecology in doubt.

— By City News Service

From the Desert Sun: Bill requiring IID board seats for Coachella Valley paused until 2020; IID says divestment still an option

Sam Metz, Palm Springs Desert Sun

Published 6:30 p.m. PT May 16, 2019 | Updated 2:59 a.m. PT May 18, 2019

Assemblymember Chad Mayes’ controversial bill to add Riverside County representatives to the Imperial Irrigation District’s Board of Directors hit a roadblock on Thursday when the Assembly Appropriations Committee put it on hold until 2020.

The bill, A.B. 854, failed to advance to the Assembly floor but also avoided being relegated to committee’s dreaded “suspense file,” which would have effectively defeated it. The Appropriations Committee will next consider the bill in 2020.

After Thursday’s hearing, Mayes said the fight over voting rights and representation for IID ratepayers residing in Riverside County was far from over. Mayes said he planned to meet with the IID Board of Directors in El Centro Friday morning to discuss his concerns about Riverside County representation on IID’s board.

“This bill’s not dead. We’re continuing to work on it. It’s incredibly important for all the local stakeholders to get together,” Mayes said. “We have to figure this out.”

IID and Coachella Valley residents have fought about representation for almost a century, since the irrigation district and the Coachella Valley Water District reached an agreement to expand IID’s jurisdiction to sell electricity in the Coachella Valley. Local officials from the Coachella Valley have lobbied for additional seats on IID’s board since at least seats 2007. Mayes said he remained committed to ensuring Coachella Valley ratepayers won representation on the IID board.

“IID has the ability to change utility rates, determine investment in communities or cut service altogether,” he said. “This power over 92,000 disenfranchised voters must be balanced with representation.”

Mayes’ bill proposes adding six seats to IID’s five-member board to give the 92,000 Riverside County customers who account for 60% of IID’s electricity sales proportional representation. The bill generated swift backlash from both IID’s board and Imperial Valley activists, who called it a Riverside County power grab and said it threatened their water rights.

After preliminary discussions with Mayes, IID board President Erik Ortega sent the assemblyman a strongly worded letter rejecting future conversations.

The tactic backfired when the Assembly Local Government Committee advanced the bill with a 6-2 vote on April 24 after some committee members said they voted in favor of it largely due to their disapproval of the letter.

A week later, Ortega said, if the bill advanced further, IID would consider withdrawing services from the Coachella Valley.

IID lobbyist Antonio Ortega said the district was pleased with Thursday’s outcome and committed to sitting down to talk with Mayes, Coachella Valley Water District and ratepayers about representation.

“Regardless of the outcome of today, the purpose was to continue to have this dialogue at the local level,” he said. “It’s easier to have a discussion without having the threat of A.B. 854 hanging over our heads.”

Even though IID threatened to divest from the Coachella Valley if the bill advanced, Ortega said the district felt under threat by A.B. 854. He said the bill threatened the delicate relationship between IID and the Coachella Valley Water District, IID’s current governance structure and potentially the district’s water rights.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Ortega said, citing Newton’s Third Law. “Divestment isn’t a threat, it’s an option.”

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, condemned IID’s political brinksmanship after it proposes divesting from the Coachella Valley, but on Thursday, he echoed the district’s talking points and said fights about representation on IID’s board would be best solved locally.

The powerful Democratic lawmaker represents both the eastern Coachella Valley and the Imperial Valley in the Assembly and has said he opposes the bill but thinks questions about Riverside County representation merit a discussion.

“The willingness of parties to come to the table demonstrates good faith efforts on all sides to resolve this matter locally without the need for legislation. Putting A.B. 854 on hold will allow for these negotiations to move forward,” he said.

https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/16/iid-board-coachella-valley-remake-bill-pause-until-2020/3694964002/

AB 854 – Some very bad legislation…

On March 5, 2019, the Imperial County Building & Construction Trades sent a letter to Assemblymember Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) asking him to reconsider AB 854, legislation he introduced that has several issues.

This is the letter in opposition of AB 854. If you agree that this piece of legislation is bad for the Imperial Valley contact Assemblymember Mayes, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia and Senator Ben Hueso.

Desert Sun: Norma Sierra Galindo wins third term on IID Board.

Despite big money donations from farmers opposed to the IID water policies to serve all Imperial County residents, Norma Sierra Galindo leaves her opponent in the dust.

Norma Sierra Galindo

Imperial County voters re-elected Norma Sierra Galindo to the Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors, rejecting a bid from Carlos Zaragoza, who was backed by a handful of farmers seeking greater control over the region’s Colorado River water.

With all precincts reporting early Wednesday, Galindo had won 53 percent of the votes, compared to 47 percent for Zaragoza, a property tax consultant. Zaragoza declined to share his opinion on the Abatti lawsuit during the campaign, saying only that he would “support the law as determined by the courts.” He received at least $5,000 from farmers who had previously supported Imperial Valley First, a group that has fought IID over water rights and campaigned against sitting board members in several elections.

Zaragoza received $1,000 in campaign funds from Jimmy Abatti, Mike’s brother and the immediate past president of the Imperial County Farm Bureau, who has previously sued IID several times over its water policies. Zaragoza also got $1,000 each from farmers Kevin Grizzle, Mike Morgan, Jack Vessey and Doug Westmoreland. Separately, Morgan gave $5,000 to Imperial Valley First, which registered to campaign against Galindo.

The complete article can be accessed on the Desert Sun website by clicking here.

Commentary (from AgAlert): Proposition 3 water bond represents important step

Below is a snippet from an article published on the California Farm Bureau’s AgAlert by Justin Fredrickson, environmental policy analyst for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Indeed, it’s no accident that numerous, solution-oriented conservation groups strongly endorse this bond, along with representatives of agriculture and business, flood-control districts and water districts throughout the state. Conservation groups supporting Proposition 3 include the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Planning and Conservation League, Sustainable Conservation, California Trout, Natural Heritage Institute, Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl Association and Save the Bay.

“That’s because Proposition 3 includes funding for conservancies, recycling, water conservation, stormwater capture, fish, waterfowl, Salton Sea restoration and forest management.”

You can read the entire article here.

LA Times: As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

As states near deal on Colorado River shortage, California looks at water cuts of as much as 8%

After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.

Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.

With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.

Nearly two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have taken their toll on Lake Mead, a major source of water for Southern California. (John Locher / Associated Press)

But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.

“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”

The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.

The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.

Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.

The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.

Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)

Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.

The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.

Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.

California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.

Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.

“I’ve got my own people asking tough questions. But I believe we can do it,” Metropolitan’s Kightlinger said.

A drought plan will not end debate among lower-basin users, who are confronting the fact that their use is outstripping the long-term supply.

“It’s not sustainable,” Kightlinger said. “We have to push it down or grow supply” with other sources.

The complete article by Betine Boxall can be read here.

ACWA: This November Vote Yes on Prop 3-Says Californias Association of Water Agencies


Passage of Proposition 3 is Dependent Upon Educating the Public

  • by Timothy Quinn
  • Oct 5, 2018
  • Voices on Water

With one month left before the Nov. 6 general election, water agencies should seriously consider making a concerted effort now to educate their communities about Proposition 3, if they have not already done so. Numerous reasons can be listed as examples of how passage of this water bond will not only benefit Californians, but their children and grandchildren. In the bigger picture, Proposition 3 builds on momentum from the passage of Proposition 68 passed in June, and it will require a tremendous amount of momentum to overcome the many challenges culminating within California water before our eyes.

Climate change, the increasingly catastrophic natural disasters that result from it and aging water infrastructure have compounded in the already uniquely challenging era in California water affecting us on a daily basis. Meanwhile, we remain well aware of the unacceptable fact that some disadvantaged communities lack access to safe drinking water – a problem that we strongly agree must be solved, but not through bad policy that leads to unanticipated consequences that benefit no one.

Please click here to read the complete article.