Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Salton Sea - Pipe Dream


Last updated 6/13/2016 at 6:24am

Already 50 percent saltier than the ocean, the 340-square-mile Salton Sea, is known more now for the noxious stench that billows across the valley and the attempts to save it, than the glitz and glamour of its former glory. The groups that have been brought together over the years to try and think of ideas to save the dwindling body of water, have met with varying success.

Geothermal plants and wildlife sanctuaries have brought life back to some shores but one idea, a shore to sea pipe, is facing a less than promising future.

“In order to survive, the lake will require a massive infusion of water to stabilize levels and hold salinity in check,” said Kerry Morrison, executive director of Ecomedia Compass, an advocacy group based in the area. With deliveries of Imperial Valley water to San Diego ramping up, the Colorado River that flows out of the Rockies is already over-committed.

Ecomedia Compass advocates piping in water from the Gulf of California, 160 miles away to the Salton Sea. Colt Stewart, a Palm Springs resident, is one of the idea’s biggest backers. “The engineering is simple,” he said. “And it’s mostly downhill.”

But the feasibility of the project is questionable and the cost is outrageous.

Michael Cohen, senior research associate for the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, which has been exploring Salton Sea solutions, said conceptual estimates prepared for the state a decade ago put the price at $49 billion. Cohen explained the need to ship excessively salty water back out to sea as well as water being pumped in. The possibility of needing several expensive desalination plants would ramp up the costs further.

A variation of the concept would pipe water in directly from the Pacific, but it would generate huge electricity bills to pump water over coastal mountain ranges.

Not only is the money unavailable for such a project, it would take a minimum of three decades to complete and produce results. The sea will be dead long before then.

“We need to support plans that can work,” Cohen said. “Although sea-to-sea plans are intuitive and appealing, they are not the answer to the imminent collapse of the Salton Sea.”

“I don’t think it is going to happen – ever,” Cohen said.

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