As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected.
A new plan for the Salton Sea, designed by engineers and approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in 2012, would allow pumping up to 500,000 acre-feet of water a year from the sea’s main outlet to a coastal resort community near the Mexican border, in exchange for selling development rights to the sea bed to the state of California.
After three years of public comment and a hearing that included environmentalist and scientist David Schnare and an attorney for the B.O.E.M. in the state’s attorney general’s office, the plan was rejected by the state Water Resources Control Board.
In a 4-1 vote, the board rejected the plan and cited what it said were weaknesses in the way the B.O.E.M. proposed to manage the Salton Sea. It found that the B.O.E.M. failed to consider the water quality impact of pumping into the sea, and the economic and environmental impacts of the plan on the state’s coastal communities.
The rejection was the latest in a long series of setbacks for a plan that environmentalists and environmentalists say is the answer to Salton Sea environmental problems—and, for decades, the only hope for saving the ocean habitat for wildlife, fisheries, and recreation. The proposal would allow the B.O.E.M. to use the sea as a commercial fishery, and the state’s water and power agencies would lease parcels of the sea bed to private companies to develop it as they wish.
Supporters say it can provide jobs and water for agriculture and tourism, while environmentalists and scientists argue that pumping water from a wetland is beyond the B.O.E.M.’s authority and that the project will cause significant environmental harm.
The rejection of the plan is a victory for environmentalists. “This is a very important victory for the environment,” said Craig Shiver, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm. “This was a well-executed plan to protect the salinity that was being pumped out of the Salton Sea. This is a good plan. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good plan.”
But despite the victory, the battle has only just begun. On Tuesday, California’s water agencies will announce the end of a three-year trial of the plan that allowed the B.O.E