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Salton Sea Green Energy Restoration Project Could Help California’s Economy

Salton Sea California

The Salton Sea in California is shrinking and becoming saltier due to a decline in agricultural runoff, a situation which could trigger increasing amounts of dust blowing off the lake bed and loss of critical habitat for fish and birds.

Water levels of the Salton Sea are expected to fall lower and faster by the end of 2017, when the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) water transfer deal ends. An agreement signed a decade ago, which will reduce the amount of water that enters the lake. This will cut the amount of water flowing into the sea even further.

The Salton Sea, located in Riverside and Imperial counties in Southern California, is the State's largest inland lake. The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when Colorado River floodwater breached an irrigation canal being constructed in the Imperial Valley; it has since been primarily fed by agricultural drain water. According to experts, the Salton Sea serves as an important fishery and wildlife habitat and is a major stopping point for migratory birds along the Pacific flyway.

Salton Sea California

In a November 2013 report, California State Auditor writes, "Beginning in 2003, a series of agreements known collectively as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), between the State, local water agencies, and other entities have required, among other things, a water transfer that has reduced the amount of water that flows into the Salton Sea (water transfer)."

"To mitigate the effects of the water transfer, the QSA requires one of the local water agencies that is a party to the agreement to provide additional water (mitigation water) to the Salton Sea for 15 years, from 2003 to 2017."  California State Auditor goes on to explain, "Experts anticipate that when the Salton Sea stops receiving this mitigation water, the water transfer will cause profound negative environmental impacts, including the loss of fishery habitat, exposure of soils to wind erosion, and declines in bird species because of the loss of food."

The state audit in November also warned that no final figure has been calculated for the cost of restoring the salt water sea. Estimates have run from $3 billion to $9 billion.

A study conducted by the Imperial Irrigation District suggests development of green technology in the region could generate enough revenue to begin restoration of the threatened sea.

IID manager Bruce Wilcox said the environmental program will provide funding to “build habitat and renewable energy in the same area.” Complete restoration of the Salton Sea could cost up to $9 billion, but Wilcox said the funding will “jump-start” the restoration.

My Desert reports an estimated $2 billion of the total revenue would come from geothermal plants. Mineral extraction from Salton Sea brine would account for another $1.5 billion, while other projects, including solar, would comprise the remainder of the $4.1 billion in revenue. The estimate calculates energy revenue from Salton Sea projects between 2016 and 2045.

Roger Shintaku, executive officer of the Salton Sea Authority, a consortium of local water agencies and county and tribal governments working on sea restoration, told MyDessert news, "What we’re trying to figure out realistically is how much money we can generate over the next few years. You can’t just hang out your hat and hope for a $9-billion windfall,” Shintaku said, referring to the high-end estimate of restoration costs. “We need to work with whatever we can generate on our own on a local level.”

Even with issues that may rise, like trying to maintain the required equipment with the brine in the Salton Sea being incredibly corrosive. Therefore, the equipment would need to specifically developed to resist and combat corrosion. IID is confident that this project will create enough revenue to begin a restoration project and positively impact California’s environment and economy.

Salton Sea Environmental Issues

“I'm optimistic that we can find a way if we work together and there's a political will from all levels of government including grassroots,” V. Manuel Perez, California State Assembly said. “Part of the reason why we have not been able to move forward is we're all moving in so many different directions. We need to find consensus to what the issues of the Salton Sea are.”

California isn't the only one looking into Geothermal Energy. There has been a growing global consensus that geothermal means clean, reliable energy.  "We are seeing new technology developments move forward and new projects being announced in every region of the world," remarked Karl Gawell, Executive Director, Geothermal Energy Association. "Despite slow growth in the United States, the global market continues to gain steam. So, many American geothermal companies are using their industry know-how in friendlier economic and political climates overseas."

Salton Sea Documentary

Saving the Salton Sea

This documentary tell the story of the Salton Sea.


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