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Salton Sea Authority board discusses restoration options

June 22, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

LA QUINTA — There are no easy solutions to restoring the Salton Sea.

Already battling the sea's high salinity, the Salton Sea Authority is facing the likely possibility of reduced inflows resulting from the Imperial Irrigation District's proposed water transfer to San Diego.

The Salton Sea Authority board of directors discussed restoration possibilities and potential complications during its Thursday meeting at the Imperial Irrigation District boardroom here.

With salinity continuing to rise in a sea that's already saltier than the Pacific Ocean, a water transfer will likely reduce inflows to the sea, exacerbating the salinity problem unless officials can find a way to mitigate it.

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SSA Executive Director Tom Kirk presented information on the sea's problems and how the sea will be affected by less water coming into it to the board and audience members.

No single scenario stood out as better than the rest as every possibility carries down sides.

"It's a tough sell because there are no easy answers," said Gary Wyatt, SSA director and an Imperial County supervisor.

The possibilities Kirk listed included fallowing farmland and giving the excess water to San Diego, on-farm water conservation, dropping the transfer altogether or continuing with the transfer and doing nothing to save the Salton Sea.

Director Andy Horne voiced opposition to fallowing, an opinion shared by many in the Imperial Valley.

"Setting fallowing as a precedent for freeing up water sets us down a very slippery slope," Horne, also an IID director, said.

Agriculture is the Imperial Valley's "bread and butter," Horne said. Cutting more jobs in a county where unemployment is already high isn't a good idea, Horne said.

On-farm water conservation would require farmers to recapture tail water from their fields and reuse it rather than let it flow to the Salton Sea. While this solution will free other water for the transfer to San Diego, it will reduce the amount of water going to the sea.

What's more, Kirk pointed out, the water the sea does receive will be saltier, lower-quality tile water that would worsen the sea's already high salinity.

Abandoning the transfer would have legal ramifications for IID and would leave the coast still needing water.

Going through with the transfer and ignoring its effects on the Salton Sea would have disastrous effects, including the destruction of bird, fish and other wildlife habitats at the sea.

That was one scenario no one in the room was willing to let happen.

Corky Larson, SSA director and Coachella Valley Water District board members, said she considers the Salton Sea a "sleeping economic giant." She said she remembers the area's popularity in the 1950s and '60s and thinks a renaissance is possible.

"We need some real, good information on third-party impacts," Kirk said, adding that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is compiling such data.

The SSA has already begun desalination pilot projects such as the solar evaporation pond test site that went into operation this spring. A preferred restoration project is expected to be announced this summer.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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