According to a press release from the Salton Sea Authority, which oversees issues related to the sea, the solar evaporation ponds could be a long-term solution to the salinity problem.
Work on the ponds started March 1 and the ponds are expected to be in full operation by May 1. The ponds will remain in operation for the testing through May 2002.
Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, said there is a series of 10 ponds.
He said water from the sea is pumped into the first pond, where the water evaporates and the salt concentration becomes higher.
Water from that pond then flows into the remaining ponds, one after the other. In each pond the salt concentration increases as more water evaporates.
By the 10th pond, the salt has crystallized and can be extracted.
"We know it works," Kirk said Saturday. "There is no magic to it. The solar ponds are a proven technology."
He said the goal of the year-long test is to prove the solar ponds will be as effective as expected. Should the testing prove successful, more ponds could be built and a solar pond system would become one means of lessening salinity in the sea.
Earlier this year another pilot project was done to test an enhanced evaporation system of removing salt from the sea.
That system works by using high pressured snow blower-like machines that cause water to evaporate and the salt to separate from the water.
In a press release, Roy Wilson, president of the Salton Sea Authority board, stated: "The solar pond and our enhanced evaporation pilot projects are hard evidence that we are moving ahead on the restoration of the Salton Sea."
Wilson, a Riverside County supervisor, stated: "The authority continues to work closely with federal, state, regional and local officials to develop and implement projects in a timely and efficient manner."
Kirk said it is expected to cost up to $400 million to fully implement the restoration projects. Money for such an effort would likely have to come from federal, state and local sources.
Imperial County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber, who is on the authority board, said the solar pond system may be the most cost-effective way of reducing the salt content.
He said some estimates have suggested the cost to deal with the salt problem could be as high as $1 billion. Solar ponds would keep the cost below that mark, he said.
Kirk said it is important that the sea be saved for environmental and economic reasons.
He said some 250,000 people visited the Salton Sea State Recreation Area last year, which means revenue for the counties in which the sea is located.
Kirk added the sea has the second-largest number of bird species in the nation.
He said it is important that the sea survive, particularly when considering more and more wetlands are being lost to development.
Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.