Salton Sea fights to stop pumping to prevent it from drying up

As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected

This article is more than 5 years old

This article is more than 5 years old

A community in the US state of California has won a court order compelling federal authorities to stop pumping ocean water out of the Salton Sea to prevent it from drying up, a victory for activists who are fighting what they say is a plot to strip away their community’s natural resources.

The Salton Sea – at the mouth of the Colorado River – lies 80 miles north-east of Bakersfield. The salty waters can be a haven for some fish and are home to hundreds of seabirds, including the endangered Northern gannet.

In December 2012, federal authorities granted a permit to an environmental group to build a pumping station to draw water for irrigation and export to the Pacific Ocean. The permit called for pumping in up to 4.1bn gallons a year, equivalent to an annual discharge into the Pacific Ocean.

The permit was challenged in court, and on 25 March, a three-judge panel of the US court of appeals in Washington ruled that the permit did not follow environmental protections.

The permit had allowed the pumping to continue as long as a certain level of salinity – measured in parts per million – was maintained in the waters of the Salton Sea. If the salinity fell below that level, the pumping would stop, to “preserve the natural environment of the Salton Sea”.

In its ruling, the court said this did not mean “saltwater lakes and rivers are not entitled to protection under the National Environmental Policy Act, or the other environmental statutes”. The Salton Sea is a “wilderness” and “national preserve”, and it is protected under the Clean Water Act, as well as under “the California state law”, the court found.

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Salton Sea, a community home to about 5,000 people, has long been fighting against the pumping and now plans to sue to stop it altogether.

In their legal filing, the organizers of the lawsuit said: “Our community of Salton Sea residents

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