Pilot project could help scientists, rid Salton Sea of salinity content


April 24, 2001|By MARIO RENTERÍA, Staff Writer

BOMBAY BEACH — The Salton Sea Authority has launched a pilot project in this area designed to help scientists gather information which could someday rid the sea of its high salinity.

Congressman Duncan Hunter, who represents the Imperial Valley, attended the launching of the solar pond evaporation pilot project.

Hunter said it is critical that the sea be saved because it serves as an important resource.

The ponds are located in the Niland County Park on the southeastern shore of the sea, between Bombay Beach and Niland.

The series of 10 evaporation ponds, spreading for about six acres, will operate until May 2002 and will gather data regarding the removal of salt from the sea in order to provide a longterm solution to the salinity.

"This is another step in what we hope will be very successful efforts in cleaning the Salton Sea and restoring it to its natural beauty and environmental importance," said Salton Sea Authority Board President Roy Wilson.


Wilson also is a Riverside County supervisor.

Construction of the ponds, which cost $775,000, started on March 7.

The designing, construction, operation and evaluation were done by the Agrarian Research and Management Co. of Bishop.

Scientists hope to answer five questions with the project:

What are the evaporation rates from Salton Sea brine?

What are the seepage rates from unlined ponds?

What are the solid salt characteristics and growth rate?

What are the bittern or waste salt characteristics?

What are the operational strategies to optimizing solid salt production?

By answering those five questions, scientist hope to have enough information to build a larger solar evaporation pond project.

"Solar salt pond technology is well developed and is used around the world to produce commercial salt. Each brine source is unique, however, and in order to develop an efficient solar salt project, data must be gathered directly from that brine source," said Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.

"This pilot project is not going to lower the salinity of the sea, but a much bigger one can and will," Kirk said.

The pilot project starts with the filling of the first pond. Water then flows into the second pond and so forth.

Water is slowly evaporated at each pond. Once the water reaches the last pond most of the salt is in a crystallized state.

The salt that is left at the bottom of the last pond will be covered with a layer of soil since there is nothing toxic about the salt.

"For 40 years we have been talking about saving the Salton Sea. What this means is we are actually going out and doing something about it. It's a small project, but it's taking 600 tons of salt from the Salton Sea," Kirk said.

The Salton Sea is 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

Hunter said, "I hope we are able to size up how much land it will take to actually pull the salt of the sea down to the point where we can continue fish and other aquatic species for the next 50 years and save the sea from becoming a dead sea."

He added, "The sea has always been a vital recreation area for lots of people. It's within driving distance of 6 percent of America's entire population which makes it a very important resource. I look forward to the day that more and more people are utilizing it, and I hope it will bring an economic benefit, also, to the Imperial County."

Imperial County Supervisor Hank Kuiper, who was also present at the pilot project launching, said, "The Salton Sea needs to be saved and if there is anyway we can save the sea, this is part of the process and we need to be doing it.

"It's a great resource not just for the county but for everybody. We need to save the Salton Sea before it's too late."

Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3435.

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