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2.0 THE SALTON SEA: PROBLEM OR OPPORTUNITY

How one perceives solutions depends significantly on how one defines the problem to be solved. If the problem is seen principally as a set of obstacles to overcome, solutions may be harder to envision and may appear to be more difficult to achieve. Thus, there may be less motivation to pursue solutions. However, if the problem is also seen as an opportunity, a wider field of solutions may become visible and a more achievable solution may be discernible.

The Salton Sea as it currently exists, is an accidental creation which, once created, had no natural system to sustain it. Without additional human intervention, the sea would simply have evaporated in a relatively short number of years. Over time, however, several agencies and interests intervened to utilize the sea for special purposes. Variously, the Sea's potential was recognized and developed, at least to some degree, as a recreational resource, a wildlife habitat, a drainage basin for agricultural run-off, a flood control basin, and a living environment. Collectively, these various uses did not constitute a comprehensive plan for the management of the Salton Sea, nor was there any attempt to avoid or minimize conflicts among these uses and optimize their respective benefits. The Sea remained an accidental creation, the life span of which was artificially extended; but there was still no natural system to sustain it.

Over the years the absence of a natural flow-through system with the capacity to maintain a water quality level which would support recreation and habitat values led to growing problems with increasing salinity and potentially hazardous levels of selenium and other elements. In addition, there was no mechanism to maintain the surface of the Sea at a desired elevation. Recreation values and usage declined, flooding problems developed, threats to wildlife began to emerge, and, increasingly, it was easy to view the Sea as a set of problems with what appeared to be perhaps prohibitively expensive solutions. In the face of such formidable obstacles, concern over the various individual problems has not in the past coalesced into a unified approach to meet the challenges.

It may be worthwhile to compare the Salton Sea to a reservoir rather than to a natural lake. A reservoir is deliberately created to serve specified functions, which can include flood control, recreation, and wildlife habitat in addition to the primary function of water storage. The reservoir is then carefully managed and deliberately maintained to serve the desired functions. The secondary function may, in some instances, also create revenue streams to help offset the costs associated with the reservoir. A primary example of this is a reservoir with power generation facilities. The point of the comparison for the Salton Sea is that it suggests that, while the Sea was accidentally created and thus had no intended functions, a set of functions has come to be defined over time, but the Sea has not been correspondingly managed and maintained. Perhaps the fundamental task at present, then, is to redefine the functions of this vast Salton Sea reservoir and integrate these into a comprehensive management plan as objectives for the Salton Sea Authority to use for any future remediation work done on the Salton Sea. Section 3.1, below, outlines the current functions of the Sea.

The Salton Sea Authority has wisely chosen to view the Salton Sea as an asset rather than a problem. The opportunity this provides is that of re-creating the Sea to maximize its diverse values while recognizing that, like a reservoir, the Salton Sea is not a naturally sustained system; thus we must create a system to sustain the Sea. The challenge in so doing is to integrate revenue generating and value creating opportunities into the solutions to current problems and the long term management plan to help defray the significant costs of rehabilitating and maintaining the current functions of the Salton Sea maximizing its future value.

In this spirit, this white paper seeks first to articulate the various current functions of the Salton Sea which Dangermond & Associates believes the Authority wishes to maintain. The report then identifies potential innovative improvements which are intended to rehabilitate and maintain the Sea's current functions thus enhancing its value. The report then discusses four specific alternatives, which utilize these innovative improvements in several combinations to remediate the existing problems and manage the Sea productively in the future.