Following confirmation that —originated at the Salton Sea, a Riverside County supervisor today called on the governor and lawmakers to "step aside" and permit local restoration of the sea to move ahead.
"At this point, the sea is receding, the ecosystem is dying, and the air is becoming increasingly noxious," said Supervisor Marion Ashley, who serves as chairman of the Salton Sea Authority. "In spite of these growing problems, the state refuses to lead the restoration planning effort or yield the lead to local authorities, (who) are committed to developing a feasible action plan."
Ashley released a two-page statement that began with a warning that the sulphuric fumes that wafted across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin Sunday night and Monday would be "nothing" compared to what might emanate from the sea in the future.
"As the sea recedes, plagues of powdery air-borne dust are destined to descend upon the residents of Southern California, choking people, pets and plant life," Ashley said. "While the solutions will require capital investment and ongoing expense, doing nothing is the most costly of all options."
According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors pollution levels in the region, of decaying organic matter, including dead plants and sea life, resulting in elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide.
Thunderstorms over the low desert moved west, carrying the malodor with them.
The AQMD said there was no health threat posed by the fumes.
According to Ashley, the experience serves as a "pungent reminder" of why the Salton Sea Authority, a quasi-regulatory body made up of officials from Riverside and Imperial counties, should be freed to take charge of a tentative "restoration action plan" conceived more than six years ago.
"Let us take the lead. That's all I'm saying," Ashley told City News Service. "The Salton Sea Authority can form public-private partnerships and get this thing done. Just give us a chance ... The state has the expertise and knowledge, environmental and otherwise, that we need. So we should move forward together. But the chief decision-maker should be the authority.
"Public health and safety risks continue to grow as the receding Salton Sea shoreline imperils the environmental and economic health of the region."
The 365-square-mile sea -- the largest part of which lies in Imperial County, with the north portion stretching to within a few miles of Thermal -- has been plagued with increasing salinity over the last 40 years, to the point that some of the sea's deeper places are saltier than the ocean.
Moreover, according to studies, nutrient compounds from agricultural runoff have created a "eutrophic" condition where high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia kill fish and produce gagging odors.
Water reclamation plans by local agencies and Mexico, as well as a reduction of Colorado River supplies, will shrink the sea in the coming years, according to the Salton Sea Authority.
Ashley said the state has been aware of the sea's precarious condition for decades and came up with a $9 billion strategy to preserve the century-old body of water, where some 400 bird species congregate annually during their winter and spring flights. However, despite local agencies setting aside $133 million for a mitigation effort, the Legislature has failed to commit any funds.
The supervisor noted that the most recent budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown abolished the Salton Sea Restoration Council, which existed in name only but had been established to identify a process by which to begin restoration .
Ashley complained about the governor vetoing a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Manuel Perez, D-Indio, that would have allocated $2 million for a "feasibility study" of current restoration plans.
The supervisor said the state didn't even have to draw down its own accounts for that; it could have used funds already provided by local agencies.
"It is time for the state to step aside and yield the reins to the Salton Sea Authority, the local entity that is committed to resolving this issue of critical concern to all who hope to breathe freely in a healthy environment and strong economy," Ashley said.