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Report: Salton Sea May Become Environmental Hazard without Restoration

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OAKLAND, California -- The Salton Sea is shrinking, and without a restoration project it will transform from California's largest lake into an economic, health, and environmental hazard. The Sea's 75-year crash-course is detailed in a report released today by the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, an independent, nonpartisan think-tank.

"Failing to act on behalf of the Salton Sea will have dire consequences," said Michael J. Cohen, lead author of "HAZARD: The Future of the Salton Sea With No Restoration Project." "California must implement a restoration plan to combat the future problems of a shrinking Sea. Failure to do so will mean nothing less than disaster for the health of the region's inhabitants, wildlife, and growing economy," Cohen said.

According to the report, the Salton Sea level will drop by more than five feet in just the next 12 years. In 2018, due to the 2003 water-transfer agreements and changes in Mexico, flow to the Sea could decrease by 40 percent, and the Sea will reach its critical tipping point. Among the devastating changes:

  • Between 2018 and 2030, the Sea will drop an additional 20 feet;
  • By 2021, rising lake salinity will mean the loss of nearly all fish life. Tens of thousands of resident and migratory birds will lose breeding and roosting habitats and food sources;
  • By 2036, the southern shore will recede 4 to 5 miles, and the shrinking Sea will expose more than 130 square miles of dusty lakebed to the desert winds-an area nearly three times the size of San Francisco;
  • In 60 years, the Sea will be nothing more than a shallow algal/bacterial soup.

"Exposing 134 square miles of lakebed to desert winds could kick up an average of 86 tons per day of talcum powder-like dust into the region's air," said HAZARD co-author Karen Hyun. "This dust is a respiratory irritant, and Imperial County is already home to the highest childhood asthma hospitalization rate in California."

According to Julia Levin, State Policy Director for Audubon California, the impact on fish and birds will be staggering. "This analysis demonstrates that we must do something to protect the Salton Sea," she said. "Without restoration, we will lose almost all fish life and tens of thousands of resident and migratory birds."

Next month, California is expected to release its report on Salton Sea restoration options and alternatives. The State is required to submit a preferred alternative to the California Legislature by December 31, 2006.

"California has a clear choice: Do nothing for the Sea now and suffer the consequences, or fund a restoration project that protects the ecosystem and promotes economic development," said Cohen.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of UnderwaterTimes.com, its staff or its advertisers.

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