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Multi-State Water Pact Signed, Rejecting Effort To Save Salton Sea


MECCA (CNS) - A desert water agency was ``the elephant in the room'' Tuesday as representatives from seven states, along with several key district officials, met in Phoenix to sign a Southwestern drought pact that excludes the
Imperial Irrigation District, the head of the agency said.
   ``As we gather here today on the shore of the Salton Sea strewn with bleached bones, bird carcasses and a growing shoreline, and as champagne is being prepared for debauched self-congratulation in Phoenix, remember this,'' IID Director Jim Hanks said at the California State Water Resources Control
Board meeting at the Salton Sea Yacht Club in Mecca. ``The IID is the elephant in the room on the Colorado River as we move forward. And like the elephant, our memory and rage is long.''
   The IID is the Colorado River's largest single water user, according
to the agency.
   On Monday, the Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1 to exclude
IID from the Drought Contingency Plan, a multi-state agreement that ensures
that states from the Lower Colorado River Basin will agree to store set volumes
of water in Lake Mead if the lake reaches certain levels.
   The desert water agency was excluded from the deal as it seeks a
``firm commitment'' of more than $400 million in state and federal funds to
restore what it calls a mounting public health crisis at the Salton Sea. The
plan includes projects such as creating small wetlands or geothermal sites to
restore the Salton Sea's receding shoreline and ultimately ensure that about
500,000 acres of land between Calexico and Palm Springs meets California
Environmental Quality Act standards.
   More than $200 million was expected to be decided before the DCP was
signed, which would have alleviated IID's environmental concerns and allowed
all Southwestern water entities to be included in the DCP, according to the
IID's Robert Schettler.
   ``The declining Salton Sea presents a severe public health and
environmental crisis,'' Schettler said. ``This is really about protecting the
backyard here... Our area in the Imperial Valley is one of the poorest in the
state. You know, the lowest average median income and the highest asthma rate,
and we're trying to protect those people.''
   Nearly 650,000 people are affected by poor air quality in the area,
according to a report from the Pacific Institute.
   Asthma risks increase for underprivileged communities as fine dust
leaches into the air from the Salton Sea's receding shoreline, according to
Pacific Institute. More than 100 tons of dust per day could be released into
the air by 2045 if the shorelines are allowed to recede at the current rate,
the institute reported.
   Restoration programs for the Salton Sea were linchpin issues for IID
back in December when the organization tentatively agreed to sign the DCP,
Schettler said.

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