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Valley Official Briefs Congress on Salton Sea Cleanup Plans

By Steve DiMeglio
Desert Sun Washington Bureau, September 29, 1999

WASHINGTON -- Tom Kirk, executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, briefed Tuesday the congressional Salton Sea Task Force on the progress made in a study concerning the possible cleanup of the Salton Sea.

Kirk outlined a three-year, $8.5 million plan to test ways to keep salt levels in the sea safe. A variety of scientists are working with the sea authority to map in detail a plan that could be used to implement the test studies that work.

That report to Congress is due out by the end of the year.

"It's encouraging to see an action phase come together," said Rep. Mary Bono, who has headed efforts to clean the Salton Sea, just as her late husband, Sonny, had done before in Congress. "Progress is being made," the Palm Springs Republican said.

Earlier this month, Kirk briefed members of the Salton Sea Authority, the public and other California officials on the plan at a session at the Imperial Irrigation District's monthly meeting.

The water in the Salton Sea, the largest inland body of water in California, is 25 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean, and is expected to become 30 percent to 35 percent saltier than the ocean in 10 years. About 10 million fish died last month at the sea because oxygen levels in the water apparently dropped to unsafe levels.

In 10 years, the level of salinity will be high enough to gradually kill all the fish in the sea, and it also will be so high that it will be impossible for the fish to reproduce.

One plan would call for an evaporation system similar to the misters used to cool off people in the heat of summers. Two 100-foot-tall towers would spray sea water into the hot desert air, causing the water to evaporate and the salt to fall to the ground. That test, which will be set up at the former Navy Salton Sea Test Base at the southwest corner of the sea, will cost $1 million to $2 million.

Kirk said the thought is to treat the saltiest water and replace it with river water and agriculture runoff that's only half as salty.

Another test would build a small evaporation pond where salt would be harvested. A third test would see if commercial fishing could lower the numbers of tilapia, which make up the vast majority of the fish population in the sea.

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