3 Apr 2008

Toilet Restoration

My least-favorite "sea" is the Salton Sea, an inland sink for agricultural runoff that was "created" by a man-made disaster (levee breech diverted the Colorado River into the basin about 100 years ago).

The Salton "Sea" was popular for its shoreline in the 40s and 50s, and there are even people living there today. It got more toxic (from runoff) and more saline (from evaporation exceeding fresh-water recharge) over time.


Now the "Sea" (I'll just call it Toilet) has a constituency of real-estate developers, local bureaucrats, et al., who are trying to get Billions of Dollars to "save" or "restore" it to its former glory. This is like restoring a dried up oil spill to its former glory.

The thing that really upsets me (see also here and here), is that these $billions are often justified as necessary to protect an essential reserve for birds migrating from Mexico to Canada (the Pacific Flyway). That excuse has created a Baptists and Bootleggers coalition of bird-lovers and local land developers who want to use other people's money (the infamous OPM) to benefit themselves.

The reason I am upset is that a far-better resting place for those birds exists -- it's called the Colorado Delta, and it is on the Sea of Cortez (Yep, in Mexico). The Colorado Delta is in trouble because the same farmers (IID et al.) whose toxic runoff is going into the Salton Sea are the farmers who are taking about 3 million acre-feet of water (about 3,700 megalitres) per year from the Colorado. The Colorado River is often dry before it even reaches its Delta -- making it less-suitable for birds.

So, the Sea has created its own "need," and restoring a better place (the Colorado Delta) is probably off the table because it's in another country. (Wouldn't want to spend our money on Mexicans now, would we?) Oh, the ironies only multiply in that fine Salton atmosphere of heavy metals and toxic dust....

[end of long preamble]

Last week, this story gave the latest update on the Salton Toilet
The state Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee approved the bill by Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, to create the Salton Sea Restoration Council with 14 local and state voting members.

But Senate committee members passed the bill only after raising questions about issues from the role and power of the proposed agency to its financial obligations.

"This is still very murky," Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said.

Ducheny, who also represents Cathedral City, agreed that the bill, as several committee members commented, was a "work in progress," but she stressed that it's important work that everyone agrees needs to be done.

[Did you read that? "Murky" + "Work in progress" = "pass the bill" from committee. But wait, they article goes on to say:]

No one spoke against the bill.

Environmental groups and representatives of Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District commended Ducheny's work on the bill.

[What we have here is a breakdown in common sense.]

Duchney also is the author of another bill, SB 187, which is stalled in the Assembly, to endorse the 75-year, $9 billion restoration plan produced last year by the state Resources Agency.


In the Senate committee, Ducheny ran into questions about whether a 14-member council was unwieldy
You bet! 14 people plus 7 nonvoting (but still talking) plus all interested parties will produce a cacophony of no progress.

Bottom Line: The man-made Salton Toilet is now a man-made ecological disaster, with its own constituency devoted to keeping it going. The shenanigans that began 100 years ago ago going on today, and too many, precious resources (money, water and wildlife) are being thrown away to retain or restore a toilet that shouldn't even exist.

The people who created the Salton mess (IID et al.) should fix it. If that means they pay $9 billion, fine. If that means they take less water from the Colorado, fine. But it should NOT mean importing OPM to keep the insanity alive.


Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite poems,
it's by a poet named Ashley David. Even toilets are beautiful when they swirl.

The Salton Sea

Where the wind blows and the palm fronds rattle,
Soul food grows for the plenitude—
corvina, tilapia, sargo, gulf croaker.

A thatched shack stocked with Nehi and smoked mullet
stands beside the pier where a brown pelican
stops on the Pacific Flyway south.

The thing about the sea
is that opposite wills are at work.
The salt kills prey unless the waters rise.

Peace on the surface belies
a reservoir of shifting volume.
Some cling to the affair, but
retirees and illegal aliens have no clout
when waters glow hot.

The phases of the lake
want paralysis.
This desert sealet is placid unless
the wind kicks up. And now sentinel chickens

announce a vector-borne virus on the shore.
A Salton Sea obituary reads:
Eden, where is the snake of wisdom,
The serpent before it lost its feet?

Anonymous said...

So what is your solution David? Let the sea dry up and then find a way to deal with the toxic dust storms that would result? How would you deal with those?

David Zetland said...

@Anon -- Here's how I see it. Either (1) we keep the sea from drying up to make sure that the toxics do not blow away or (2) we dry it up and clean up the toxics. There's no middle ground.

If IID drainwater continues to provide water faster than it evaporates, then we get (1). If IID runoff is reduced (for whatever reason), then we get (2).

I think that IID should pay for the clean up, as it is IID toxics that are on the Sea, but I was informed by IID folks that it's the State's problem. In fact, I can't find any information on WHO is responsible for PAYING for the restoration.

Dr. Hamid Rasool said...

Removal pursuant to the Winters Doctrine of all dams from the Colorado and its tributaries is the solution to both the delta and the Salton Sea problems. Humans in Southern California have recently shown they can get by on much less water than they thought. Factory farms suck therefor progressive dam removal will accomplish another public good by cutting water off to the factory farm craporations and giving it back to the Colorado River and its tributaries, even if the factory farm craporations frantically swear that humanity will not be able to live without them.

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