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Salton Sea Authority Supports Legislation

By John Welsh
The Press-Enterprise, Monday, July 2, 2001


The issue of saving the Salton Sea became a little more complicated this week.

Board members of the Salton Sea Authority, the group responsible for protecting the sea, voted Wednesday to support legislation that would help the state reduce its use of water from the Colorado River and, in turn, reduce the flow of some of that water into the Salton Sea.

Critics think the vote will hurt efforts to continue reducing salinity levels in the sea and make the area safer for fish and birds.

"The reduction of inflow into the sea makes it much more challenging to restore the Salton Sea," said Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.

But the 4-2 vote by Salton Sea Authority members, including those from Riverside County, could also be viewed as a way to appease such agencies as Metropolitan Water District and the San Diego Water Authority, Kirk said. The hope is that officials from those agencies would support restoration, he said.

And support from those agencies is critical, said Milton Friend, chief scientist of the Salton Sea Science Office.

"That effort needs to be more than lip service and it needs to be more than passive," Friend said.

Without the water from the Colorado River, the price of keeping salinity levels in the sea safe for fish and birds climbs from about $200 million to more than $1 billion over the course of restoration, Kirk said.

"Finding makeup water in the desert is very difficult," Kirk said. "That's why the efforts become that much more expensive."

Those voting to support the legislation included Imperial County Supervisor Wally Leimgruber, Andy Horne of the Imperial Irrigation District and Peter Nelson and Corky Larson of the Coachella Valley Water District.

Imperial County Supervisor Gary Wyatt and Stella Mendoza of the Imperial Irrigation District voted against the plan.

"I could not vote with good conscience on something that I believe ultimately will lead to the demise of the sea or harm this great asset of ours in the desert," Hyatt said.

Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson and Authority board member attended the meeting but had to leave before the vote. Riverside County

Supervisor James Venable, a Salton Sea Authority board member, did not attend the meeting.

Efforts to preserve California's largest body of water have been going on for years. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Energy and Water Appropriations Act, which includes $3.5 million to help restore the Salton Sea.

John Welsh can be reached by phone at (909) 782-7555 or e-mail at Staff writer Claire Vitucci and The Associated Press contributed to this story.