As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected
By John Wood
August 6, 2014 — 1.00pm
A boat passes through the Salton Sea on the way to San Diego on July 25. A plan to build a seawall has been struck down by the federal government. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A plan to build a seawall near the Salton Sea so water can be diverted to help heal the natural environment has been rejected by the federal government.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused a conditional use permit for the project, which would see 488 cubic metres of seawater pumped across the Salton Sea every year to recharge the region’s groundwater supplies and to alleviate the region’s flooding.
The water would not be pumped directly into the sea — it would be used to recharge the aquifer.
“This proposal is a very important next step in saving the Salton Sea ecosystem for future generations,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.
The project will also be reviewed by the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). The MLPA allows the environment agency to use limited federal funds to provide protection to the marine life in federal waters, and the agency could reject the permit.
The move is a setback for the activists who put forward the plan, including the National Parks Conservation Association, Californians for Safe Drinking Water and Environment, and Salton Sea Institute.
“We will be reviewing the Corps’ decision, and will be seeking an emergency exemption under the MLPA,” the association’s director, Peter Glebnitz, told the Southcom blog in an email.
There’s also controversy surrounding the decision.
In their application for the permit, the group said that if the pumping didn’t take effect, the Salton Sea could cease to exist. It also says that the pumping would destroy the habitat of the endangered green sea turtle and the threatened blue whale.
The Army Corps is not the last agency to review the plan. The California Coastal Commission will make the final decision.
The proposal has been the subject of intense scrutiny since 2008, when it was proposed by a coalition of environmental groups.