SAN FRANCISCO—Southern California is facing a public health and environmental disaster. After years of historic drought, the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, is shrinking. Imminent water transfers under the Quantification Settlement Agreement will accelerate the exposure of the Salton seabed, putting 650,000 southern California residents and over a million residents in Mexico at risk, as well as billions of dollars in farming, recreation, and other economic activities in the area. And the crisis is not only local. Without the Salton Sea, an inter-state agreement to stabilize Lake Mead and the water resources for the four states dependent upon the lower Colorado River would falter. In addition, more than 400 bird species that use the Salton Sea would lose a crucial stopover on their Pacific Flyway.
The Water Funder Initiative is a collaborative of leading philanthropic foundations that seeks to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the United States, starting in the American West, where the scarcity and reliability of clean water are urgent issues. The Water Funder Initiative Lower Colorado working group includes The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, The Energy Foundation, The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and The Water Foundation.
We join with the US Government and the State of California in supporting a comprehensive plan that sets the stage for a Salton Sea restoration effort and long-term management program. We commend the federal and state negotiators on taking necessary first steps towards a critical solution spanning government, industry and philanthropy.
At this crucial juncture, we are prepared to aim for $10 million over five years to support implementation of a comprehensive plan to protect public health and the environment, enhance drought resilience, and promote renewable energy and restoration at the Salton Sea. The funding could include loan guarantees, civil society support, private sector engagement, economic diversification programs, and other initiatives that benefit wildlife habitats and local communities. The ability to commit such funding depends on the following:
- First, there must be an accountable restoration roadmap that: protects public health; promotes environmental and social justice for disadvantaged local communities; meets careful wildlife habitat management needs of resident and migratory birds; and achieves the Governor’s Salton Sea taskforce recommendation to restore 25,000 acres over ten years;
- Second, this habitat creation roadmap must be coordinated with California’s participation in a Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan to enhance drought resilience in the Imperial Valley and southern California, provide for sustainable management of the Colorado River Basin, and reduce the destabilizing structural deficit that is emptying Lake Mead;
- Third, there should be parallel and coordinated efforts to develop the Imperial Valley’s renewable energy resources to help meet California’s greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals and secure local economic development opportunities;
- And finally, there must be sufficient funding commitments from the State of California and the Federal government to fulfill the objectives of the plan.
We must act now to capitalize on the enormous progress that has been made to address the challenges faced by the Salton Sea. This is the time to commit. There is a great opportunity to finalize a framework this year that could guide efforts over the next decade to protect public health, strengthen the environment, put us on a path to a more sustainable water future, and develop vital renewable resources. We hope this breakthrough is achieved and urge the California and Federal leaders to take advantage of this moment.