Salton Sea Countdown to Collapse

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First Step In A Big Job

The Press-Enterprise, January 12, 1993

As a recent Press-Enterprise series has documented, the Salton Sea is in deep trouble.

It is beset by a myriad of related problems. Rising salinity and toxic pollution are taking a toll on the sea's wide variety of fish and wildlife, and in some cases exterminating it. With its surrounding bays and deltas and generous fishery, The Salton Sea, California's largest lake, is one of the nation's premiere bird sanctuaries, a key stop for millions of migratory birds on the pacific Flyway. The slow poisoning of the sea poses the potential for a large-scale environmental disaster. That California has already lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands raises the stakes even higher.

The sea, straddling Riverside and Imperial counties, is also beset by apathy and neglect. Born of human error and set in a sparsely populated desert, the Salton sea has never been embraced as an environmental cause, despite its importance as a wetland.

Saving the sea from ecological collapse is yet possible, but there is not easy or inexpensive way to do it. A lack of money and political will makes the task even more formidable.

Yet cleaning up the horribly polluted New River, which flows to the Salton Sea, would be a good start. And that now seems possible. Spurred by the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. and Mexican negotiators have finally agreed on a plan to control the worst sources of pollution, originating in Mexico's Mexicali Valley. A New Rive cleanup plan was worth mentioning in the recent talks between President-elect Clinton and Mexican President Salinas. Its implementation ought to be a contingency of any NAFTA agreement.