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‘Save Our Sea': New group fighting transfers

August 02, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

INDIO — A new community-based group has formed to challenge proposed water transfers it thinks could prove harmful to the Salton Sea.

Called Save Our Sea II, the group has its roots in a 1960s movement that struggled with the same task; to save the Salton Sea.

The group is focusing its concern on the quantification settlement between the Imperial Irrigation District, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that advocates say would "create peace" between the districts for 75 years.

The agreement is key to the proposed transfer of some 200,000 acre-feet of water from IID to the San Diego County Water Authority. The agreement also is key to the plan to reduce California's water use to 4.4 million acre-feet per year. California takes 5.2 million acre-feet per year but is legally allowed only 4.4 million acre-feet.

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SOS II representatives are ready to challenge legislation proposed by Congressman Duncan Hunter and Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would call for the finalization of the settlement within a set deadline.

The proposed bill, yet to be introduced into Congress, is known as the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Facilitation Act.

Steve Horvitz, a spokesman for the group who also is the Salton Sea State Recreation Area recreation superintendent, said SOS II is worried about the effect the passage of such legislation and the transfer of water would have on the fragile ecosystem of the Salton Sea.

He added the transfer of water would reduce the size of the sea, exposing as much as 40,000 acres of sea bottom and increasing salt concentration in the rest of the sea. The Salton Sea is dependent on Imperial Valley farm runoff for freshwater inflow and that likely would be greatly reduced under a water transfer.

That loss would cause significant harm to the wildlife that lives there, he said.

Spread over 381 square miles at the southeastern end of the Coachella Valley and northwestern end of the Imperial Valley, the Salton Sea is the state's largest lake, is a prime stopover for many species of migratory birds and is a popular recreational fishing area.

SOS II is concerned the water districts will use the proposed legislation to circumvent certain requirements of the Endangered Species Act. In particular the group wants to protect such species as the endangered brown pelican.

IID officials say the quantification settlement is critical to protecting the state's water needs and say the legislation proposed by Hunter and Feinstein could prove beneficial to the Salton Sea by providing additional funds for the sea's cleanup.

IID officials have come out in support of Hunter and Feinstein's proposed legislation and are waiting for it to be introduced.

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