On Sept. 30 the Independent Review Panel set up by California’s Salton Sea Management Program issued its final report. SSMP charged the panel with evaluating proposals to import water to the Salton Sea. In the end, the panel did not endorse any of the 18 proposals.
The panel found that the key issue is not the size of the sea, it’s the salinity, which is nearly twice that of the ocean and getting worse. A smaller sea can achieve the principal objectives of salinity reduction, environmental restoration and regional air quality improvement. First, the state should embark as soon as possible on designing and building a desalination plant at the sea. Second, the state should collaborate with the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) on a program to acquire water for dedication to the sea. Finally, the state needs to finance an aggressive program to manage playa dust, expanding on its initial programs.
IID’s farmers would be asked to provide replacement water for the salty brine removed while the sea is being desalinated. As the sea’s water quality improves, the amount of replacement water needed would decline. In the early years, roughly 140,000 acre-feet per year of applied water would be needed, less in rainy years, and declining over time. Without this, the plan could proceed, but the sea would reach a smaller ultimate volume if the brine water isn’t replaced.
IID, Imperial County and its residents have much to gain from implementing the panel’s recommendations. The impacts of air pollution are a shared local burden. Recreational opportunities from a restored sea, from bird watching to fishing, would mostly benefit residents, although the local tourist economy would also grow.