Institute Questions Approach of Salton Sea EIS/EIR

January 13, 2000, Oakland, California - The Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security welcomes today’s release of the Salton Sea draft EIS/EIR and the opportunity to review and evaluate the approach being taken by federal and state agencies to restore the Salton Sea. The Sea, the largest inland body of water in the State of California, is located 35 miles north of the US-Mexico border in southeastern California. It is both an officially designated sump for agricultural drainage and valuable habitat for more than 380 species of birds, the second-highest number in the U.S. Agricultural drainage water, high in fertilizer residues, salts, and other pollutants, sustains the Sea, yet is also linked to the massive fish kills and chronic bird mortality that characterize the Sea.

The Pacific Institute is pleased that the lead agencies have endorsed a pilot project to test the viability of the Enhanced Evaporation System (EES), an unproven technology at the scale proposed by the Restoration Plan. The Institute also welcomes the opportunity to review the criteria that will be used to evaluate the success of the EES.

The Pacific Institute also looks forward to evaluating the lead agencies’ plans to dispose of the tremendous amounts of salts likely to be generated by the EES. “Four million tons of salts enter the Sea annually, equivalent to a 40-car freight-train load each day,” noted Michael Cohen, a Research Associate at the Institute. “Simply to stabilize the salinity of the Sea, the Project will have to remove that same quantity of salt from the Sea. Where will they put all this salt? And how will they move it?”

On a broader scale, the Pacific Institute remains concerned that the Restoration Project alternatives do not address the factors, especially the high quantities of nutrients entering the Sea, which led to the ecological problems that attracted attention to the Sea in the first place. The lead agencies note the importance of nutrient loading via the plan to harvest fish, but this will not meaningfully address the problem. “Public support for the restoration project,” stated Jason Morrison, a Senior Associate at the Institute, “is premised on the expectation that the plan will improve the ecological health of the Salton Sea. But the cornerstone of the plan, focusing on stabilizing the salinity and elevation of the Sea, will not solve the Sea’s core ecological problems.”

The Pacific Institute will thoroughly review the proposed plan and release its findings during the 60-day comment period.

The Executive Summary of a 1999 report produced by the Institute on the future of the Salton Sea, “Haven or Hazard: The Ecology and Future of the Salton Sea,”
is available online.