Dr. Ruiz calls for a congressional hearing on the imminent health crisis at the Salton Sea
Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D., D-Palm Desert, continues to sound the alarm that federal agencies must be held accountable for and fully engage in the imminent public health crisis at the Salton Sea. Ruiz and Rep. Juan Vargas, D-El Centro, sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources requesting a congressional hearing on the federal responsibility for managing and mitigating the declining water levels and dust exposure at the Salton Sea.
“I am committed to bringing additional federal resources to address the impending public health crisis at the Salton Sea,” said Ruiz. “Working with local and state partners, I have advocated for and secured millions in federal funding for Salton Sea projects like the Red Hill Bay project. Congress must hold federal agencies accountable for protecting the public’s health and recognize that managing the sea is an emergency. A hearing will allow me to ask federal agencies tough questions and hold them accountable to their agreements.”
In congress, Ruiz has prioritized protecting the public from this environmental hazard. Ruiz brokered a $30-million federal funding commitment for the Salton Sea, pushed for the groundbreaking of the Red Hill Bay project, and protected the long-term water supply for the Salton Sea through legislation earlier this year.
By pushing for a congressional hearing, Ruiz is continuing the fight through yet another avenue: holding federal officials accountable for the slow action to address the Salton Sea. Ruiz’s top concern is preventing toxic particulate matter from blowing into communities and harming public health, the environment, and the economy of the Coachella Valley, the greater Los Angeles area, and the entire Southern California region.
The Salton Sea is the largest body of water in California covering roughly 370 square miles across Imperial and Riverside counties. The federal government — including the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service — is the largest public owner of land under and around the sea and maintains trust responsibilities to the Torrez Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.
In 2003, the Quantification Settlement Agreement between regional water districts and the state of California facilitated additional inflows to the Salton Sea, helping slow the pace of the receding shoreline. That agreement ended in December 2017, which has greatly reduced inflows to the sea.
In 2016, with Ruiz’s support and urging, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the California Natural Resources Agency signed a historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work hand-in-hand to protect the long-term health of the sea and families across Southern California. The MOU included a federal commitment of $30 million for dust suppression and habitat restoration projects. The MOU also included directives for interagency partnerships and streamlined participation in Salton Sea projects. Ruiz has secured language in appropriations bills in 2018 and 2019 affirming congress’ support for this MOU.
In 2018, Ruiz secured passage of an amendment in the FY19 Energy and Water Appropriations Act directing the Bureau of Reclamation to spend $2 million on Salton Sea projects. In FY19, the bureau spent $2.5 million on various projects, including the Red Hill Bay project, and the North Shore Marina restoration. In FY18, the bureau included $1.5 million for Salton Sea projects.
In 2019, as part of H.R. 2740, the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, Dr. Ruiz again secured his amendment directing $2 million for Salton Sea projects.
The 2018 Farm Bill included modifications to several programs at USDA to facilitate federal investment in the Salton Sea. The Farm Bill expanded the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to allow for water districts and states to apply for funding and use funds for off-farm conservation projects. The Farm Bill also gives the Secretary of Agriculture the ability to renew Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects so that ongoing projects can be finished without needing to reapply.