October 20, 2006, Oakland, CA: On October 19, 2006, California’s Departments of Water Resources (DWR) and of Fish & Game (DFG) jointly released a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for the Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Program (see www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov/PEIR). This document presents and assesses eight different plans to restore the Salton Sea.
The Pacific Institute has engaged actively in Salton Sea restoration efforts for nine years, producing reports, submitting extensive comments on previous restoration documents, and developing our own restoration proposal, the first to recognize that a partial-Sea plan would be the only feasible approach. Click here for more information.
The Salton Sea is an internationally significant resource. Extending between the Coachella and Imperial valleys in southeastern California, the Sea is the state’s largest lake, covering some 350 square miles and providing an invaluable source of food and habitat for millions of birds migrating through the harsh desert. This restoration program offers the best – and perhaps the last – hope for this imperiled ecosystem. Faced with ever-worsening water quality and the certainty that inflows will diminish by more than 30% in the next 20 years, the Sea will shrink dramatically in coming years, threatening public health with larger and more destructive dust storms and quickly degrading the value of this critical stopover on the Pacific Flyway.
Restoration of the Salton Sea is essential to wildlife, the protection of public health and the quality of life in the surrounding communities. The Sea is considered a globally important bird area because of its astounding diversity of bird species – more than 400, the second-highest count in the nation – and the very large populations of some species that rely on it for habitat. Its restoration is also essential to protect public health and agriculture from dangerous levels of dust pollution that would otherwise result from exposed seabed. It offers important opportunities for recreation, hunting, fishing and economic development. Finally, restoration is an essential element of the Quantification Settlement Agreement and the associated water transfer from the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) to urban Southern California.
There is no question that we must act to protect and rehabilitate the Salton Sea ecosystem – failure to act will create a hazard to human and environmental health (see: HAZARD: The Future of the Salton Sea Without a Restoration Plan). The question is simply, how best to act.
The PEIR describes eight ways we might act, but it does not identify a preferred alternative. Citing Fish and Game Code §2930, the PEIR notes that, “The preferred alternative, when determined, is to provide the maximum feasible attainment of the following objectives:
- Restoration of long term stable aquatic and shoreline habitat for the historic levels and diversity of fish and wildlife that depend on the Salton Sea;
- Elimination of air quality impacts from the restoration project; and
- Protection of water quality.”
The legal requirements listed above identify habitat, air quality, and water quality as the key criteria for the selection of a preferred alternative. The alternatives vary in their ability to achieve these requirements; none of the eight action alternatives analyzed in the PEIR satisfies all of the requirements. We believe that the preferred alternative should combine the best elements of the alternatives into a refined plan, as described in our comments.
On January 16, 2007, the Pacific Institute, the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Friends of the River, High Country Citizens Alliance, Living Rivers, National Wildlife Federation, Sonoran Institute, Southern California Watershed Alliance, and Western Resource Advocates submitted general comments on the PEIR (pdf).
The Pacific Institute also submitted detailed comments on the PEIR (pdf), in conjunction with many other interested groups.