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Our Opinion: Saving our sea

August 07, 2001

Concerned citizens have formed a group to save the Salton Sea.

Hooray for that. The Salton Sea should be saved. It is a wondrous place. There is no place like it on earth. It is a peerless habitat for both local and migratory birds. It is one of the best fishing spots in the world. Yet the Salton Sea suffers from environmental problems and even more, it suffers from ever-increasing levels of salinity, levels that have reached a critical stage.

Something needs to be done, and Save Our Sea II, inspired by a similar group in the 1960s, has the brain power and willpower to get a lot done. The people involved in the group are a powerful, well-connected lot with sincere hopes of saving the Salton Sea.

At the same time any method devised to save the sea seems to put the Imperial Valley in a precarious situation. If the Imperial Valley is to transfer water to San Diego, as the Imperial Irrigation District has agreed to do, yet not damage the sea, it might have to fallow a grand amount of farmland in order to keep an adequate amount of water flowing into the sea to keep it from dying. Fallowing of huge amounts of farmland would devastate our economy.

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Then again, if the Imperial Valley backs out of the transfer and continues to let farm runoff fill the sea, many people, including federal officials and San Diego-based officials and others supporting its interests, would come down hard on the Valley for "wasting water." Piling on would be Coachella Valley-based officials, who also stand to benefit with water from the transfer-related agreement, and those local farmers who want to make some easy bucks off it. What has been a voluntary transfer could become a mandatory transfer, but with all benefits to the Valley removed from the package.

Of course, if the water were taken away from the Imperial Valley by the Department of the Interior by claiming it is being wasted, then the federal government becomes liable for the environmental damages for water that would no longer be sustaining the sea.

Letting the sea dry up is a horrible alternative. It would devastate nature and bring dust storms to the surrounding area that could severely injure the health and agriculture of the people and crops of the Imperial Valley. Countless birds and fish would die. Property values would plummet around the sea.

SOS II members want the transfer package to be stopped in order to save the sea. The political ramifications of that are scary, but so are all the alternatives.

There are people to blame for getting us into this lose-lose-lose-lose situation, but we have already thrown most of those people out of office, so there may be nothing more to do than work through this and try to find the plan that best benefits everyone without hurting anyone.

There are no easy answers in this mess.

We hope SOS II can work with that.

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