Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on the Trump administration to quickly implement new drought provisions she secured in the Farm Bill to protect the Salton Sea, which is rapidly shrinking due to reduced inflows. The bill provides the Department of Agriculture with new authorities and additional funding for conservation efforts that could be used to mitigate the negative effects of the declining lake.
“I’m writing to ask that you quickly implement the new drought provisions Congress included in the recent Farm Bill and provide a firm federal funding commitment to facilitate Salton Sea conservation efforts,” Senator Feinstein wrote. “These new drought provisions are vital to protecting public health, natural resources, the environment, wildlife and the agricultural industry in the Coachella and Imperial valleys.”
Full text of the letter follows:
January 30, 2019
The Honorable Sonny Perdue
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
The Honorable David Bernhardt
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Perdue and Acting Secretary Bernhardt:
I’m writing to ask that you quickly implement the new drought provisions Congress included in the recent Farm Bill and provide a firm federal funding commitment to facilitate Salton Sea conservation efforts. These new drought provisions are vital to protecting public health, natural resources, the environment, wildlife and the agricultural industry in the Coachella and Imperial valleys.
The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, is rapidly declining due to decreased inflows from years of historic drought and necessary agriculture water conservation efforts over the past two decades. Located next to 600,000 acres of prime farmland, the lake’s reduced size negatively impacts the entire region.
To address these challenges, I worked with my Senate colleagues to include bipartisan drought provisions in the Farm Bill authorizing the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help mitigate the damage through multiple conservation programs. The legislation’s conference report also directs USDA to use its new authority to reduce the impact of regional drought agreements on agricultural producers and natural resources. The Farm Bill also included an increase in funding for conservation programs to ensure that Salton Sea conservation efforts could be funded without impacting funding for other agricultural conservation efforts.
USDA is already actively engaged in Salton Sea conservation, partnering with Imperial Irrigation District, the state of California, the Salton Sea Authority, the Torres Martinez Tribe and Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers on multiple pilot projects. The Farm Bill drought provisions—supported by these stakeholders—authorize USDA to expand those pilot efforts in order to leverage the $200 million recently secured by the state of California to implement a 10-year Salton Sea management plan.
The Department of the Interior is also a major landowner at the Salton Sea but still hasn’t fulfilled its commitments to better manage the significant air quality challenges associated with decreasing sea inflows. The federal drought contingency plan (DCP) sought by the department aims to secure additional voluntary water use reductions from California agricultural producers, which has raised concerns that inflows to the sea will further decline.
At a recent meeting of Colorado River water users, Commissioner of Reclamation Brenda Burman indicated she would begin the process of regulating agricultural water rights if a DCP agreement is not signed by January 31, 2019. This top-down regulation can be avoided if the Colorado River basin states can reach a voluntary agreement before then. It is important to note that Congress sought to assist in this effort by giving USDA the tools and funding necessary to promote conservation programs in states like California for drought mitigation and resilience projects.
I look forward to working with you to expand USDA’s Salton Sea conservation efforts, and to support efforts throughout the state to prepare California for additional challenges associated with climate change.
United States Senator