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Drought Threatens (Artificial) Salton Sea

Drought Threatens (Artificial) Salton Sea

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, unless Californians ante up to save the endangered Salton Sea, there could be environmental consequences for its surrounding areas, such as deteriorating air quality. The Salton Sea is the largest inland lake in the state, and has been a critical stop for birds as they travel the Pacific Flyway, but as it dries up, exposed playa that are covered with pesticides from agricultural run-off could foul the air.

Local officials are hoping that the state will approve a $7.5 billion state water bond on the ballot in 2014 that would support new reservoirs, recycling plants and pipelines. Additionally, $475 million would be used by the state for water restoration projects, including the Salton Sea. Representatives from San Diego, including Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, have been trying to get the water bond on the ballot.

But officials from the area around the Salton Sea acknowledge that the water bond will not suffice to cure the Sea completely; they would need billions of dollars and an inundation of fresh water. 

Bruce Wilcox, the Imperial Irrigation District’s environmental manager who supervises the Salton Sea restoration efforts, told the Union-Tribune that the bond could revivify “habitat cells,” scattered across the sea. He added that there are only two prominent species of fish left in the sea, so time is off the essence, stating, “We have to really hurry on the habitat side especially. We’re running out of time.”

In 2003, farmers started leaving their lands idle so that water could be transferred from the Imperial Irrigation District to the San Diego County Water Authority. The San Diego region reaped 30 percent of its supply of water from that agreement.  But that also meant there would be less runoff to the Salton Sea, which had no way to replenish itself as it is an inland lake. Then the state implemented a policy which will place a water requirement on the San Diego and Imperial lifts in 2018, which will wreak havoc with the Sea’s recovery, the Union-Tribune reports.

Brad Poiriez, Imperial County’s air pollution control director, noted that unless the Sea is saved, “a wall of sediment” could begin blowing across Imperial County. He said, “We’re afraid that the Salton Sea could end up like the Owens Valley–just a dry lake bed.”

Photo: Lenny Ingelzi/AP

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