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Pressure mounts to salvage Salton Sea

December 06, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

LA QUINTA — Fallow or else.

Pressure continues to mount on the Imperial Valley to fallow farm ground as a state water quality official urged just such action to save the Salton Sea.

Phil Gruenberg, executive officer of the state Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board, said water from the fallowing of 70,000 acres could go toward the sea and be used to locate solar evaporation ponds.

Gruenberg said the message he wanted to leave the Salton Sea Authority board of directors was there are many alternatives to be considered, he is there to help the board make a good decision and that the choice is the authority's to make.

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"They have some tough decisions to make," he said. "There are bitter pills to swallow in any of these (restoration) packages.

"Mine is just a viewpoint among other viewpoints that they need to consider and weigh," Gruenberg said.

Gruenberg said the Imperial Valley must move forward on the Imperial Irrigation District/San Diego County Water Authority water transfer, other transfers under the quantification settlement and the California Colorado River Plan, which will bring the state down to its legal apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado yearly. He said he is convinced that 300,000 acre-feet of water will leave the Valley.

"If it's fought, I think you're going to get creamed," he said, adding that the best solution is "cropland retirement" through the IID-purchase of marginal land at an approximate cost of $1,000 per acre.

"I'm using the ‘R' word now instead of the ‘F' word, but this is the only thing that I believe will sell in the Imperial Valley to the community, and that is, a return that basically gets back to the community and bolsters the economy."

It's up to IID, he said.

Gruenberg said water provided to help save the sea is water that cannot be transferred out of the Valley. He said further transfers are likely if water is not sent to the sea.

He also said if the sea does not remain viable, there will be a push to dry up the rivers flowing into it because of the poor water quality of the rivers.

Gruenberg also made reference to so-called environmental justice, that is, where the economy is depressed and there are minorities. He suggested environmental justice concerns exist in the Imperial Valley.

"You could extend that to the Salton Sea, and it's already been extended to the Colorado River delta, where there are Indian tribes," he said. "This really extends to the entire watershed in the Imperial Valley. I believe that if this is pushed harder, it will result in more support than we've been seeing for getting these waterways cleaned up, including the Salton Sea."

IID board President Andy Horne said 70,000 acres is not just a little bit of land and the burden of the issues is being placed upon the Imperial Valley.

Gruenberg also touched on his recent comments about a joint powers authority. He said the issue was taken out of proportion and there will be no usurpation of authority from any agency.

He referred to a hand-out and said the JPA is a good idea for those water quality projects that do not have a lead agency. Those issues are the advanced treatment of effluent from the so-called Mexicali I wastewater treatment facility, and the treatment of New River water in ponds downstream of Calexico.

Finally, Gruenberg said the regional water quality control board board of directors has taken no formal position on fallowing to help restore the sea.

>>Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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