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Transfers affecting sea level opposed

April 09, 2002|By RUDY YNIGUEZ

Staff Writer

The Salton Sea Authority Board of Directors has recently come out opposing any transfers of water that would "significantly lower the level of the Salton Sea."

The only water transfers with the potential for significantly lowering the sea's level are the pending movements of water out of the Imperial Valley.

One is the transfer of up to 200,000 acre-feet yearly from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority. The second is two 50,000 acre-foot transfers to the Coachella Valley Water District and/or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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The SSA resolution states a major reduction of inflows to the sea will likely lead to a reduction in sea elevation of up to 22 feet, potentially exposing more than 100 square miles of sea bed. It also says the exposed sea bed will contribute to increasing amounts of dust and PM-10 particles in the Coachella and Imperial valleys.

The resolution was adopted unanimously by the SSA board at the urging of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, which adopted a similar one.

Four members of the SSA board are locally elected officials. They include IID board President Stella Mendoza, Division 1 IID Director Andy Horne, District 4 Supervisor Gary Wyatt and District 5 Supervisor Wally Leimgruber.

Horne said any water transfer should support the stated goals and objectives of restoring the sea while minimizing the impact on the sea and minimizing the local socioeconomic impacts.

"If we can figure out a way to accommodate the goals and objectives, then that would be the best of both worlds," he said. "That's a sticky wicket."

The goals of the recovery effort are to maintain the sea as a repository for agricultural drainage; provide a safe, productive environment for resident, migratory and endangered species; restore recreational uses; maintain a viable fishery and provide opportunities for economic development.

Mendoza said it is the intent of the Salton Sea Authority board to not harm the sea, and that in a perfect world the Imperial Valley would not have to transfer water to the coast.

"In my world the economic health of the Imperial Valley far exceeds the importance of transferring water to the coast," she said.

Wyatt said the intention of the resolution is for the SSA board to take a stand in favor of the sea.

"This is a unique environment, and we have to save it," he said, adding he sees his role on the SSA board as a "guardian" of the sea. "To do less could allow the sea to die."

Leimgruber said the resolution brings the potential effects of the transfer on the sea back into the discussion.

"The Salton Sea Authority is very protective of the needs of the sea," he said.

Other members of the SSA board include two members of the Coachella Valley Water District Board of Directors: Corky Larson and Peter Nelson.

Larson said the decisions on the water transfer, including how to generate the water, are internal issues of the Imperial Valley.

"All we're saying is, ‘If you're going to sell water, it should not lower the Salton Sea too much,'" she said, adding that a drop of one to two feet is acceptable, but not a drop of nine to 22 feet.

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

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