Salton Sea Water Transfer

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By BILL KARR
WON Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO‹In what could only be termed an historic event, sportsmen¹s
groups and some major environmental groups joined forces last week to ensure
that a proposed water transfer of some 300,000-acre-feet of water out of
Imperial Irrigation District will not harm the Salton Sea.  Without decisive
intervention right now, the transfer could be  implemented in a way that
would spell the death of Salton Sea and it¹s immediate surrounding ecosystem
within 10 years.
Groups who have agreed to work together to protect the Salton Sea, include
this publication, Western Outdoor News, United Anglers of Southern
California, California Waterfowl Association, Defenders of Wildlife,
Planning and Conservation League, Audubon California, National Wildlife
Federation and the Sierra Club.
What draws these diverse organizations together is a common agreement that
the Salton Sea and the vast and varied ecosystem it supports is of paramount
importance to all aspects of California¹s population as sportsmen,
birdwatchers and as a vital resource to the state simply for its ecological
value.
At stake in the proposed water transfer, which is part of a plan to make up
for California¹s overuse of water from the Colorado River for decades, is
the fishery at the Salton Sea, the nearly 400 species of birds that depend
on it, waterfowl and waterfowl hunting, present and future seaside
recreation, the lifestyle of residents around the Salton Sea, and the health
and lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of California residents who would be
impacted by blowing dust and salts from a dead and drying Salton sea bed.
³The Salton Sea is host to more than 400 species of birds representing about
70-percent of all bird species within California, and having the Sea as a
living ecosystem is of paramount importance to many of those species,
including the brown and white pelican and threatened and endangered species
such as the Yuma clapper rail, snowy plover and mountain plover.
³Already about 95-percent of interior wetlands in California have been
lost,² said Kim Delfino, Director of the California Program of Defenders of
Wildlife.
Delfino pointed out that the Sea also supports an active recreation
industry, including hunters, birdwatchers and certainly fishermen, all of
whom contribute to the health of the local economy. An estimated 160 million
fish live in the Sea today, and as a result, more than 400,000 anglers visit
the Sea annually for sport and subsistence fishing.  Other recreation
includes boating and other water sports
Salton Sea has held, for some years, the reputation as providing the best
fishing in California, and possibly the world! However, the Sea is in
trouble.  The Sea depends on runoff from farms for its water.  As an
enclosed system with no outlet, salts brought into the Sea by agricultural
drains continue to concentrate, and based upon the best available science
and current conditions, it is believed that the Sea will become too saline
to support its thriving fishery in 20 years.
That 20-year life span would be cut in half by the proposed water transfer,
which calls for expensive water conservation systems that would let less
water into the Sea.  The shock of these sharply reduced inflows could push
the Sea¹s  already stressed ecosystem over the edge, making future
restoration impossible.  The fishery of the Sea, the aquatic habitat that
currently attracts waterfowl, both brown and white pelicans and hundreds of
bird species could be lost.
It would be possible to transfer water without harming the Sea by fallowing
some agricultural lands instead of installing new conservation technology.
While this may provide a way for the 4.4 plan to move forward, the continued
viability of the Sea depends on agriculture, which provides water to the Sea
and habitat for many species in the Salton Sea ecosystem.
Representatives of the environmental and sports groups say the Draft EIR/EIS
for the water transfer, as submitted by the Imperial Irrigation District and
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, is inadequate and downplays many significant
adverse impacts to the fish, wildlife, endangered species, air quality,
water quality and impact on the restoration of the Salton Sea.
³Further, it does not address growth-inducing impacts in San Diego, effects
on fragile natural ecosystems and fish and wildlife resources in the coastal
San Diego Region,² she said.
The coalition of groups, as diverse as any previously formed in California,
will be working hard to protect the Salton Sea until a solution can be found
that will keep the Salton Sea as a viable ecosystem. To accomplish this will
entail huge public input to legislators and lawmakers, and we will keep
readers up-to-date on specifics as they develop.
 
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