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A Dozen Ways To Save The Salton Sea 


Moderately difficult:


1. Pursue environmentally friendly water conservation practices. Stepped-up water conservation is already required of Imperial Valley farms, yet some techniques being implemented are harmful to the sea. Farm tail-water recovery systems and lateral interceptors, for example, snatch water before it reaches the sea and concentrates pollutants in agricultural drains. Lining parts of the All-American Canal and smaller canals distant from the sea can save water without reducing the sea's freshwater supply.

5. Create a Salton Sea Management Authority. A single agency would have the power to coordinate research, select solutions, raise money, fund projects and plan the sea's future. The agency would supplant the Salton Sea Task Force, which was created seven years ago as a study group and has outlived its usefulness

9. Establish artificial wetlands. A series of man-made marshes built next to the sea could add habitat and pull selenium from farm drain water before it reaches the sea. When selenium hits harmful levels in one marsh, it would be drained left fallow and treated to remove the toxin. In the meantime, drain water would be diverted to the next marsh.

2. Build artificial nesting sites. Many thousands of acres of sea shore flooded over the past decade due to heavy rains and farm drain water, submerging spindly tamarisk clumps birds used to nest upon. About $100 will buy enough PVC pipe, camouflage and sticks to build an artificial nesting habitat capable of supporting 25 egret and heron nest when placed in shallow bays.

6. Restore wildlife habitat on the Whitewater River. The Coachella Valley Water District routinely dredges a 21-mile stretch of river bank for flood control purposes, destroying wildlife habitat in the process, Positive actions could include planting streamside trees, restoring marshland at the mouth of the river delta and thoroughly assessing alternative to regular dredging.

10. build a desalination plant/ For about $250 million, a plant could be built to evaporate a portion of Salton Sea water to extract salts that could serve as solar collectors to power a 36 megawatt solar energy plant. It could stabilize salinity at current levels. A similar project is in use at the Dead Sea in Israel.

3. Require nets over fish-rearing ponds. the government permits commercial fish farms to shoot thousands of fish-eating birds that raid ponds. Nylon nets stretched across the ponds are a harmless deterrent to dive-bombing birds.

7. Build a fish hatchery. Salt in the sea kills juvenile fish. Fish could be raised from eggs in a hatchery and released to the sea when their bodies are developed enough to tolerate the briny water. The state Department of Fish and Game proposed a $200,000 pilot hatchery project, but money was unavailable. A hatchery the state closed near Niland could be converted to raise Salton Sea species.


11. Create low-salt zones in the sea. Dikes or a transportation causeway could be used to divide the sea into sections. Pollution could be reduced in the Whitewater, New and Alamo river deltas by pumping saline water into the central part of the sea. Cost: about $188 million. This method lets much of the sea degrade, but it ensures beneficial uses continue in part of the sea. a dike separates highly saline water from cleaner water at Utah's Great Salt Lake.

4. Organize locally. No grassroots citizens group exists to pressure government and farmers to take better care of the sea. Yet campers, fishermen, hunters, bird watchers, boaters, local merchants and thousands of waterfront property owners stand to lose the most if the sea perishes.

8. Seek reconsideration of water conservation goals. The state Water Resources Control Board in 1988 ordered conservation of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Imperial Valley farms and held out the possibility of curtailing consumption by another 268,000 acre-feet. But the decision was made with little regard for recreational or wildlife values at the sea. The agency has indicated it is willing to re-evaluate the order and its Salton Sea policies if petitioned to do so.

12. Connect the sea to the Gulf of California. A channel to the gulf would give the sea a drain, hold salinity below today's concentrations and possibly allow import of ocean water to replenish the sea. It would require a channel at least 45 miles long, pumping huge quantities of water uphill 235 feet and approval from the Mexican government. Estimated costs range from $95 million to $153 million for a small canal and $775 million to $1.5 billion for a giant canal.

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; California Department of Fish and Game; Coachella Valley Water District, California Regional Water Quality Control Board; Salton Sea Task Force; U.S. Geological Survey; Imperial Irrigation District; Norm Hogg, Santa Monica College biologist; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Press-Enterprise