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Workship on Salton Sea proposal

December 23, 2001|STAFF REPORT

A public workshop to evaluate the proposal by an Oakland-based think tank to save the Salton Sea will be Jan. 8 in Indian Wells.

The workshop is being sponsored by the Salton Sea Authority science subcommittee.

The proposal, by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security would preserve and enhance the environmental habitat of the Salton Sea through the use of dikes, wetlands and management practices that reduce nutrient loads from agricultural, municipal and industrial sources.

The purpose of the workshop is to describe the environment of the sea and the impound wetlands that would be created if the proposal were built. The workshop is oriented toward determining likely outcomes relative to the stated project goals and will focus on identifying major benefits that may result, issues that need to be considered and major questions that need to be resolved for sound judgments to be made about the merits of the project.

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A panel made up of individuals who previously focused on selected components such as hydrology, engineering, biology and other major considerations will report on their focal group evaluations. The people will discuss the integration of that information into a more holistic composite of the probable outcomes. A meeting facilitator will maintain the focus for the workshop and the flow of dialogue among the panelists and others.

The Pacific Institute proposal would satisfy the dual objectives of addressing the ecological health of the Salton Sea while facilitating the pending transfer of water between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego County Water Authority.

The cost of constructing the dikes depends on their length. Their operation and maintenance will be influenced by the many earthquake faults in the area. The cost for the dikes is based on estimates found in the draft environmental impact report/statement, and range from a low of $42 million for a seven-mile dike at the north end of the sea to as much as $340 million for a 38-mile dike at the south end.

The dikes would follow certain elevation contours. The north end dike would follow the minus 240 feet elevation level of the sea. The dike at the south end would be at the minus 240 feet elevation or at the minus 245 feet elevation; it is still undecided. Also undecided is the length of the south end dike.

In the north, the dike would impound the Whitewater River, while in the south the dike would impound the Alamo River, New River, San Felipe Creek and agricultural drains, according to the proposal. The eastern extent of the southern dike would join the shoreline either near Bombay Beach — protecting Mullet Island as a rookery — or further south, near Wister. The western end of the southern dike could be configured to exclude San Felipe Creek, limiting the predation of desert pupfish that use that habitat.

Under the plan, the main body of the sea would be allowed to go hyper-saline at a rate faster than would occur without the dikes. The result would be the loss of fish in that area, though invertebrates such as brine shrimp and brine flies would thrive, providing a food source for many species of water birds, the proposal says.

The workshop is set for 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Miramonte Resort, Highway 111 in Indian Wells.

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