Once considered pipe dreams, the concept of saving the Salton Sea by tapping ocean water from Mexico, to keep the accidental salt lake from drying up, will get an official consideration at two meetings in the desert this week.
The California Natural Resources Agency will look at three competing proposals at a hearing in Coachella Monday evening, and in El Centro on Thursday.
One group of engineers proposes a pumping plant in Mexico to lift the water 100 feet, 130 miles of canals, a four-mile pipe under the U.S.-Mexico border, and a power plant to generate electricity as the water falls 225 feet down to the Salton Sea. A solar generating station in Mexico would power the lift, and sale of power from the generating station at the lake would pay for the canal operation.
That proposal would stabilize the water level at 225 feet below sea level in three years. A desalinization plant would reduce the salt level to that of the ocean, its backers claim.
The other two plans are similar. The state requested proposals from engineering groups last winter, to design and build some type of system to stabilize the shrinking Salton Sea and avert an ecological catastrophe that some analysts say could cost up to $30 billion in clean-up costs.
It received 11 proposals, and three were deemed feasible. This week's workshops in Coachella and El Centro will present those to the public, officials said.
The Salton Sea is an ancient dry salt flat, more than 200 feet below sea level. An inland ocean was accidentally created when real estate speculators built a canal from the Colorado River at Yuma, Arizona to farm the Imperial Valley. Monstrous floods in 1905 and 1906 diverted the Colorado into the valley, flooding it and creating the Salton Sea.
In the 1950s, it was a boating and fishing mecca, but farm water runoff from the Imperial Valley increased the amount of salt in the lake due to farm water being flushed from the former ocean bottom.
Recently, the San Diego County water agency bought rights to that farming water, which now bypasses the Coachella and Imperial valleys and is pumped via the Los Angeles Aqueduct to San Diego County customers on the coast.
The loss of the runoff water, originating from the Colorado River, has caused the Salton Sea to begin to shrink, concentrate its salt and get too saline for most wildlife. As the lake level recedes, dust billows into the desert with winds, and algae blooms cause rotten egg stinks that have irritated people as far away as the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.