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Statement Of The Audubon Salton Sea Task Force On Resolving The Problems Of The Salton Sea.

April 20 , 1998

The National Audubon Society - California's Task Force on the Salton Sea has adopted the following as a general position statement on the urgent and complex issue of restoring ecological viability to the Salton Sea and associated water bodies.

We believe 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 concur in the opinion that efforts should be made to improve and maintain its viability as avian habitat.

Congressional legislation to resolve the Salton Sea's problems, and the studies that they embody, must include the entire basin of the Sea (and any other water bodies involved), and should embrace the entire regional ecosystem and all human activities that impact it (all forms of agriculture and aquaculture, forage animals, aquatic recreation, geothermal energy, hunting, etc).

These 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 any improvement plan.

We believe that, although several possible "cures" for the Salton Sea's problems have been put forth, it is too early to embrace any of these projects, singly or in combination. More study is needed as to the long-term efficacy of each of them.

We believe that the following considerations should be taken into account as these studies are carried out. We feel that these considerations must be embodied in these studies for their conclusions to be seen as credible.

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 waste, and microorganisms. Future exacerbation of these problems is threatened by potential loss of fresh 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 not be forgotten that the Salton Sea is an interior, or terminal, drainage. All interior drainages are subject to severe 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.

4. Any proposals for reducing salinity must adequately deal with the question of the disposal of the surplus or extracted salt, including full study of the effects on the region of relocation of the excess salts. 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. Clean-up of the Sea will involve considerable work on both sides of the border. How this work will be distributed, coordinated, paid for, and overseen must also be made clear. We urge coordination with the BECC (Border Environment Cooperation Commission) in formulating projects within the watershed.

7. No proposal for relieving the problems of the Salton Sea will be viewed as acceptable that in any way 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. All proposed solutions for all or part of the Sea's problems should undergo competent independent scientific review, including full NEPA/CEQA (National Environmental Policy Act / California Environmental Quality Act) review .

9. It seems clear that any plan that will adequately address the Salton Sea's problems will be very expensive. We want these costs to be fully identified in the economic feasibility studies. Commitment from Congress to fund this entire endeavor, including the needed environmental studies, is essential.

10. Finally, there should be full public participation in the process >from the start. Scoping sessions should be conducted. Proposed solutions are too important, and too complex, to be formulated without adequate citizen and organizational input.

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 immediately threatened local nesting and wintering habitats.

We call on all agencies involved in the study of the problems of the Salton Sea to give full consideration to all of the above points as they formulate their proposed solutions. We stand ready to help in any way we can.

Adopted by NationalAudubon Society - California,
as drafted by its Salton Sea Task Force (April 20 , 1998)

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