Pacific Institute Offers Innovative Plan for Salton Sea

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 12/12/01

Contact: Michael Cohen, 720-564-0651 or Ian Hart, 510-251-1600

Pacific Institute Offers Innovative Plan for Salton Sea

Plan Protects Habitat and Allows California to Reduce Colorado River Use

An innovative plan recently introduced by the Pacific Institute will help California reduce the water it takes from the Colorado River while protecting key habitat that surrounds the Salton Sea.

“This plan offers a middle-of-the-road approach, between doing nothing at all for the Sea and building tens of thousands of acres of evaporation ponds,” said Michael Cohen, a Senior Research Associate with the Pacific Institute who drafted the improvement plan. “Given the pressure on California to transfer water out of the Imperial Valley, and the near-impossibility of saving the Sea as a whole when this happens, the choice boils down to preserving some habitat or doing nothing at all.”

The Salton Sea, which lies 35 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a “terminal sump” – a lake without outlet – fed mainly by agricultural runoff from the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of Southern California. According to recent agreements, California must reduce the amount of water it takes from the Colorado River. Key to this is a proposed transfer of agricultural water from the Imperial Valley to the San Diego metro area. But transferring this water will reduce flows to the Sea and cause the collapse of the Sea’s fishery, threatening nearly 400 species of birds, such as the brown pelican.

“Because California, the other basin states, and the Secretary of the Interior place a much higher priority on transferring water,” Mr. Cohen cautioned, “the real threat is that the tremendous bird habitat provided by the Sea will be eliminated with a stroke of a legislative pen. Our hope is that this limited plan can help California reduce its use water use while providing a long-term, sustainable plan for the Sea itself.”

Members of the environmental community, including Environmental Defense, Sierra Club, California-Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity, among others, have called for the serious appraisal and consideration of the habitat improvement plan.

California’s efforts to reduce its dependence on the Colorado River, and the impacts of these efforts on the Salton Sea, will be the major topic of discussion at this year’s annual conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association, being held at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas over December 13-14.

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