Lawmaker seeks legal opinion on state’s liability for Salton Sea

October 17th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

One of the big questions hanging over the future of the Salton Sea is how much the state will end up spending to remedy the problems of the shrinking lake.

Looking for legal clarity about the state’s responsibility, the office of state Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez has requested a written opinion from the Legislature’s Office of Legislative Counsel.

In the Oct. 10 request, Oracio Gonzalez, Pérez’s legislative director, explained that among local and state agencies, “there is considerable disagreement regarding the extent to which the state is financially liable for the cost of restoring the Salton Sea.”

The question hinges on the law and previous rulings, as well as the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, the country’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer, which will lead to sharp declines in the amounts of water flowing into the Salton Sea.

With the request for a legal opinion, the Coachella Democrat is seeking to pin down “the extent of the state’s liability for Salton Sea restoration, financial and otherwise, under the QSA and related agreements.”

Under the water transfer deal, three water agencies are to pay a total of about $375 million for “mitigation” costs at the Salton Sea over the coming decades. The state would be expected to foot the bill for costs above that.

But the total price tag remains unknown, and some officials have been warning that the costs of trying to control dust around the shrinking lake could be colossal. Other projects are also underway to build small wetlands around the lake to protect habitat for birds.

The questions posed by Pérez’s office include whether the state is “financially responsible for restoring the Salton Sea,” and, if so, what that “restoration” would mean as the lake’s levels drop.

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