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National Audubon Society

Salton Sea Task Force
On The 38 Alternatives For Resolving
The Problems Of The Salton Sea

October 1998

The California Audubon Society's Task Force on the Salton Sea has adopted the following as a position statement on the proposed alternatives for restoring ecological viability to the Salton Sea and associated water bodies. A general position statement was issued in April of 1998. This updated statement responds to the Bureau of Reclamation's October 1998 announcement of a set of 38 alternative strategies for stabilizing the Salton Sea's salinity, and to achieve other related goals.

We continue to affirm that the Salton Sea, though largely an artificial feature, is a significant regional asset and a vital water body for resident, summer-breeding, migrating, post-breeding, and wintering avifauna. We support the Bureau of Reclamation and the Salton Sea Authority in their efforts to improve and maintain its viability as wildlife habitat and as a regional amenity.

We strongly urge that agency studies and Congressional legislation to resolve the Salton Sea's problems include the entire watershed of the Sea (and any extra-basin environments that may be involved), and should embrace all elements of the regional ecosystem and all human activities that impact or depend upon it (agriculture, animal husbandry, fish production, recreation and ecotourism, geothermal energy, hunting, etc.).

In analyzing the 38 alternatives that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Salton Sea Authority have put forward, we urge that the following considerations be included in these studies:

1. The primary reason for undertaking a Salton Sea project is to maintain a viable inland lake suitable for use by a wide variety of wildlife that have greatly varying habitat needs. Goals that focus on regional development or other questions of the local economy, while important, should be compatible with, and not detract from, the primary goal .

2. The various problems being experienced by the Salton Sea are the result of continued human input of pollutants such as nutrients, pesticides, industrial wastes, and microorganisms. Future exacerbation of these problems is threatened by potential loss of lower-salinity water inputs due to water transfers. Any proposed restoration plan for the Sea must address all of these pollutants and the situations that cause them, both individually and with regard to their interrelated effects.

3. It must be emphasized that the Salton Sea is an interior, or terminal, drainage. All interior drainages are subject to severe natural fluctuations in both surface level and salinity. Although in theory both can be regulated by human intervention, the full costs, both monetary and ecological, of doing so should be carefully assessed. Proposals to stabilize the Sea's surface level must address how periods of very high natural inflow (such as 1977-1983) will be handled at an acceptable cost.

4. The various proposals for reducing salinity must adequately address the disposal of the extracted salt or brines, including full study of the effects on the region where these excess salts will be deposited. Such facilities must be designed and sited such that neither wildlife habitat nor human activities are destroyed or adversely altered.

5. Environmental studies of the harmful pollutants that enter the Sea should include as one alternative, and as an integral part of the solution, detailed plans for source reduction, and not just for removal or neutralization.

6. We are concerned that several of the proposed alternatives involve activities in Mexico, but there has been little substantive action to date involving that country at any official level. We urge the IBWC or other appropriate agency to solicit and publicize the Mexican position on the various restoration proposals as soon as possible.

7. The Audubon Society will not view as acceptable any proposal for relieving the problems of the Salton Sea that in any way further deteriorates the Gulf of California, especially its upper end. If possible, improvement in the quality of the upper Gulf of California, and restoration of the Colorado River delta should be incorporated into Salton Sea restoration plans.

8. The human uses of the Sea include the many Native American and other people that subsistence fish from the sea. The levels of toxic materials in the fish are imprecisely known but feared to be high. The health of all those who utilize products from the Sea is important and must be safeguarded as part of the improvement plans.

9. Many of the 38 options will require large amounts of electrical energy for pumping or desalinization. We urge that these increases in southern California energy demand be identified for each alternative, with a discussion of how such increases in energy demand can best be met, including possible use of renewable energy sources.

10. We recognize that many of the proposals to solve the problems of the Salton Sea will be very expensive. We want these costs to fully identified in the economic feasibility studies. Commitment from Congress to fund this entire endeavor, including the needed environmental studies, is essential.

In the interim period prior to full resolution of the Sea's problems, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should provide funds for rehabilitation work on sick and injured birds, as well as for protecting immediately threatened nesting and foraging habitats.

We call on all agencies involved in the study of the problems of the Salton Sea to give full consideration to the above points as they formulate and evaluate their proposed solutions. The Audubon Society stands ready to help in any way it can.

Adopted by the National Audubon Society - California,
as drafted by its Salton Sea Task Force, October 1998

Contact: Philip R. Pryde, chair, Salton Sea Task Force

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