DesertReport.org: Can Importing Water From The Gulf Of California Save The Salton Sea?

The following excerpt is from an article was posted on March 11, 2018 at DesertReport.org.

Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate, Pacific Institute:

A lot of people are saying you need to import water from Mexico to save the Salton Sea, but there are several challenges. It would require permission of the Republic of Mexico, which is currently not very fond of our President. Even at the best of times, when there is clear mutual interest such as delivering water to the Colorado Delta, it’s taken five full years to reach agreement between the nations.

There are ecological challenges. Theoretically you could put a pipeline or channel below the biosphere core area and avoid harming a pretty productive estuary. There’s also the Vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. You wouldn’t want to bring them into whatever pipeline or canal you’re developing.

Photo above: Bombay Beach on the east shore of the Salton Sea – with the water already far off in the distance. Photo by Craig Deutsche.

The second challenge is cost: the California Department of Water Resources estimated the cost at $30-40 billion dollars. That’s because one of the key challenges with any kind of import plan is that, along with that water you’re importing a lot of salt – and you need to get rid of it.

If you simply propose to bring in water and not export salt, what you do is address the dust control problem, but not the habitat challenge. It’s fairly easy to bring in a lot of water without having to worry about pumping that water
back out. So if your intent is simply to have a brine lake where Salton Sea is, you can do that.

So there are the issues of cost, salt balance, and the Mexican negotiation – all of which by my estimate would take 20 to 30 years before you get the solution you’re looking for. The Salton Sea will be completely different than it is now.

 

Does the idea of importing water to the Salton Sea distract from what can be done now?

Right, so that’s the major problem. Even if you could snap your fingers and all of a sudden there was a restored Salton Sea and you could bring in all this water, in we’d have a real conversation about whether it is worth all this additional money to have a whole Salton Sea? But when people continue to point to this solution, it distracts from what we really need to be doing right now, which is investing money in public health and protecting the environment and rebuilding habitat at least along the shoreline. And then hopefully get some kind of deeper North Lake where you can get a real fishery habitat.

Those things seem to be achievable in what should be the relatively short term, versus under the very best circumstances seeing some resolution with the import plan.

The other potential challenge is people say “oh we’re going to desalinate the water with all this geothermal resource at the Salton Sea and put some of that water back into the Sea.” But Geothermal is not cheap, and building desalinization plants is capital intensive. But the bigger problem is that once you get higher quality there, someone will buy it.

The snow pack in California is terrible, and the current forecast for the Colorado River Basin is one of the worst in the past 20 years. So there’s just not a lot of good quality water in California or the Colorado Basin. So If you produce good quality water, someone’s going to want it – which means that it’s not going to go into the Salton Sea anyway. So if you desalinate water, what you’re really saying is you’re going to sell that water to somebody else and the Salton Sea is going to be a brine sink.

 

Do you have any other thoughts?

There is so much opportunity out there. I wish they [the state] could get their act together.

The complete article is available here: http://www.desertreport.org/?p=2060