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Tracking measurable success on preserving and connecting California's Parks & Wildlife Corridors


Friday, September 21, 2007




From El Paisano, newsletter of the Desert Protection Council, Summer 2007

In April, California’s Resources Secretary proposed a new Salton Sea Restoration Plan containing much that is good for the birds and other wildlife that depend on this vital stop on the Pacific Flyway. Mandated reductions in agricultural runoff, the sea’s only supply of fresh water, could cause it to shrink or evaporate completely, removing wetlands vital to migrating birds and releasing dust from the dry lakebed to pollute the air of Imperial and Coachella valleys. The new plan would provide more than 50,000 acres of habitat for a variety of species ranging from migratory birds to the endangered desert pupfish and would reduce air quality problems associated with the exposed lakebed.

But there’s a problem with the plan – a $7 billion problem. Along with its habitat and air quality measures (which will cost about $2 billion), the plan also includes the creation of two large recreational lakes that would cover additional wildlife habitat. These lakes would require the construction of giant dams and an equally large pumping operation to move water from one end of the sea to the other.

This massive engineering project will destroy more habitat and add to the air pollution problem. All of this proposed work puts the total cost of the plan at $9 billion – a high price tag against which the San Diego Union-Tribune has already editorialized. Is it likely that the state will ever spend this much to

“Save the Salton Sea”? The California Audubon Society doesn’t think so, and is instead supporting a phased approach that would ensure that the less-expensive habitat restoration takes place first.

For more information, visit Audubon’s Salton Sea web page (reprinted below):

Salton Sea Restoration Progress Report…

from around April 2007 (before State chose the final plan)

We’re in the home stretch now, poised to select the final restoration plan for the Salton Sea. Your letters and emails have really made a difference – in late April, the California Resources Secretary will propose a Salton Sea restoration plan that provides substantial habitat for the Salton Sea’s more than 400 bird species, protection of air quality and the endangered Desert Pupfish.

click for larger view
Lots of bird habitat but too much,
too costly lake

It would be a big victory for birds and wildlife except that it also includes two lakes primarily for recreation and development that triple the cost and pose enormous risks to the environment. The money and water needed for these recreational lakes could sink the whole restoration plan unless the habitat and air quality provisions are funded and implemented first. The estimated cost of the draft restoration plan is a whopping $9 billion, and contains the following elements:

The Good: Shallow saline habitat of approximately 60,000 acres; pupfish habitat and some deep water habitat; air quality mitigation on the exposed Seabed.

The Bad: A Marine Sea, larger than Lake Havasu, that would require pumping enormous quantities of water up from the southern end of the Sea, and a smaller recreation lake in the south on what should be prime habitat.

The Ugly: The rock source to construct the northern dam will require destruction of an entire mountain, likely to be endangered species habitat and with huge air quality impacts from the mining, transport and construction. The cost of these recreational lakes in the desert will be $5-7 billion more than the habitat and air quality elements of restoration. The water demand could jeopardize habitat and air quality needs.

click for larger view
Audubon’s preferred restoration plan

Audubon believes that it is extremely unlikely that $9 billion will ever be spent on Salton Sea restoration. We are working, therefore, to have the implementing legislation, SB 187, written to include the following provisions:

  • the final restoration plan contains sufficient habitat and is constructed in phases to ensure that the shallow saline habitat complex and air quality mitigation measures are built and implemented first;
  • the final restoration plan ensures that funding and water are used first to satisfy habitat and air quality needs;
  • the project level EIR is developed in an open and public manner similar to the process used to develop the programmatic level EIR; and
  • construction of the recreational lakes is subject to additional conditions including:
    • 90 percent of its cost is borne by local entities, and the source and transport of construction materials comply with all environmental protection laws;

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and a key stopover for literally millions of birds each year, including the threatened snowy plover and Yuma clapper rail. The Salton Sea straddles Imperial and Riverside Counties and though little known outside the birding world, the Salton Sea is a national treasure.

But the fate of this desert jewel hangs in the balance as the volume of water that sustains this 360-square mile lake will decrease by more than 30 percent within the next 20 years, rapidly shrinking the lake and increasing the amount of dust and salt that blows through the Imperial and Coachella valleys. The legal agreement allowing this water transfer from Imperial County to San Diego requires the state and federal government to restore the Salton Sea to “maximum feasible attainment” of historic levels of fish and wildlife. With your help, we can make a wildlife oasis out of this murky paradise.

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