The debate over the future of the Salton Sea returns to the limelight after recent proposals have initiated debate and disagreement on its future. The Coachella Valley Water District continues to support the preservation of the Salton Sea because of its many functions. "It supplies habitat for migrating birds, but it also provides a lot of recreation for fisherman and eco-tourism and so forth," said Peter Nelson from CVWD.
However, the sea may face big changes. The Imperial Irrigation District made a proposal last week to evaluate cutting the sea off from the millions of gallons of water from the Colorado River each year. IID officials believe they can take the water they would put into the sea and sell it to coastal communities.
The major conflict stems from an agreement the groups reached in 2003. The Quantification Settlement Agreement put forth a temporary plan for IID to push the river water to the sea until 2018. The hope was to provide some support while the state worked to restore the Salton Sea. However, the IID has lost faith in the plan due to the economy and wants to shut off the pump as early as 2013. "I don't think any of us have given up on a Salton Sea restoration," said IID's Bruce Wilcox. "It's just hard to believe that with the way the economic situation is, that it'll happen short term."
In response, Nelson and the CVWD passed a proposal of their own. "We want to hold the state of California responsible for the promises they've made and we oppose the IID's proposal to stop putting water into the sea in order to sell it to coastal communities," said Nelson.
Many Salton Sea supporters fear the stoppage of mitigation water because it could create dust and affect the air quality and agriculture in the area. IID believes their proposal will not completely dry out the sea and it will help alleviate some of the current air quality issues. "I think this really gives us a chance to experiment and develop some habitat and air quality mitigation that will make a difference long term for the Salton Sea restoration," said Wilcox.
However, the supporters fear the proposal could dry up the sea altogether. The worst case scenario could cause huge problems. "We know there'll be more odors, there'll be less habitat for wildlife but the main impact will be air quality," said Nelson.
The IID remains confident their plan could fix many of the problems. "I guess I would say to them, have a little trust, we're going to try and make this better and we certainly aren't going to preclude Salton Sea restoration, that's going to happen sooner or later through the state," said Wilcox.
The IID and the CVWD now must wait for an appellate court to decide which proposal carries the most weight.