[Federal Register Volume 63, Number 123 (Friday, June 26, 1998)]
[Notices]
[Pages 34926-34927]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 98-17022]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Bureau of Reclamation


Salton Sea Project, Riverside and Imperial Counties, California

AGENCY: Bureau of Reclamation, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Report 
(EIR)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the improvement of the 
Salton Sea, California and notice of public scoping meetings.

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SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the 
Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the Salton Sea Authority 
(Authority), State of California, in accordance with the California 
Environmental Quality Act, will be preparing an EIR/EIS document to 
assess the impacts of alternative solutions for restoring the Salton 
Sea (Sea) located in Riverside and Imperial Counties, California.

DATES: Written comments on the scoping issues will be accepted until 
September 30, 1998. Public scoping meetings will be held at the 
following locations:

July 15, 1998, 5 PM--8 PM, Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, West Shores 
Post 3251, 50 Desert Shores Drive, Desert Shores, California.
July 16, 1998, 5 PM--8 PM, Imperial Irrigation District Board Room, 81-
600 Avenue 58, La Quinta, California.
July 17, 1998, 10 AM--1 PM, El Centro Board of Supervisors Chambers, 
940 Main Street, Suite 212, El Centro, California.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Bureau of Reclamation, Lower 
Colorado Region, PO Box 61470, Boulder City, NV, 89006-1470, ATTN: 
Salton Sea Program Manager or to the Salton Sea Authority, Tom Kirk, 
Executive Director, 46-209 Oasis Street, 2nd Floor, Indio, CA 92201.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. William Steele, Salton Sea Program 
Manager (Reclamation), at (702) 293-8129; or Mr. Tom Kirk, Salton Sea 
Authority Executive Director, at (760) 863-7942.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Pub. L. 102-575, 1992, directs the Secretary 
of the Interior to ``conduct a research project for the development of 
a method or combination of methods to reduce and control salinity, 
provide endangered species habitat, enhance fisheries, and protect 
human recreational values * * * in the area of the Salton Sea * * *'' 
In addition to this authority, Reclamation and the Authority have 
entered into an agreement, Salton Sea Planning and Research Program, to 
jointly study problems associated with the Sea.
    The Authority is a public agency formed under the provisions of 
Articles I and II, Chapter 5, Division 7, Title 1 of the Government 
Code of the State of California for the purpose of ``directing and 
coordinating actions relating to improvement of water quality and 
stabilization of water elevation and to enhance recreational and 
economic development potential of the Sea and other beneficial uses, 
recognizing the importance of the Sea for the continuation of the 
dynamic agricultural economy of Imperial and Riverside Counties.''
    The Sea is a hypersaline lake located in a closed basin of the 
southern California desert; it is the largest body of water within 
California. The Sea was initially formed in 1905-1907 by flooding on 
the Colorado River which breached an irrigation control structure 
allowing virtually the full flow of river water into the Salton Basin. 
The Sea's current existence is primarily due to agricultural drainage 
from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys; smaller volumes of 
municipal effluent and storm water runoff also flow to the Sea.
    The Sea is home to a highly eutrophic ecosystem and a productive 
sport fishery. The Sea, and wetlands along its shoreline, are a 
critical part of the Pacific flyway providing seasonal and migratory 
habitat to millions of birds of varying species. Several endangered 
species, including the desert pupfish, Yuma clapper rail, brown 
pelican, peregrine falcon, and bald eagle, inhabit the Sea and/or 
adjacent habitats.
    The Sea ecosystem is under stress. Increasing salinity, currently 
about 43 parts per thousand, is threatening the reproductive ability of 
some parts of the biota. Other potential issues include high nutrient 
loading, heavy metals, DDT residues, and discharges of agricultural 
chemicals to irrigation drains leading to the Sea. At the scoping 
meetings, participants will be requested to identify other potentially 
significant issues as well as potential alternative solutions.
    The purpose of the project is to identify a plan that improves the 
human environment and ecological conditions of the Sea. Based on past 
studies, various alternatives to control salinity in the Sea have been 
investigated. These alternatives include diked impoundments, pump-out, 
a combination of impoundment and pump-out alternatives, and salt 
removal from inflow to the Sea. Other options may surface during the 
scoping process. Opportunities to address other environmental issues 
facing the Sea, including issues related to wildlife resources, will be 
investigated and considered for implementation as we increase our 
understanding of the Sea's ecology.
    The objective of this effort is to evaluate alternatives (1) 
capable of maintaining the Sea as a reservoir of agricultural drainage, 
(2) provide a safe, productive environment for resident and migratory 
birds and endangered species, (3) restore recreational uses, (4) 
maintain a viable sport fishery, and (5) identify opportunities for 
economic development.
    The analysis will address the current issues of (1) accumulation 
and concentration of salts, nutrients, and organic compounds and other 
constituents, (2) water elevation stabilization, (3) reduced 
recreational use of the Sea, and (4) reduced ecological values. The 
environmental document will also address any Indian Trust Assets (ITA) 
of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians and assets of any other 
Tribe(s).
    Environmental and engineering baseline data have been collected 
over

[[Page 34927]]

the past several years and the project is now ready to move forward 
under the CEQA/NEPA process. The Secretary of the Interior has 
identified this as a high priority project and action is being 
expedited due to the worsening conditions at the Sea. Over 200,000 
birds have died at the Sea over the past six years as a result of the 
current conditions. Reclamation and the Authority will be working 
closely with interested Congressional members and other stakeholders to 
develop possible solutions.
    A Research Management Committee (Committee) has been established of 
high-level managers from the U.S. Department of the Interior, 
Authority, State of California, and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla 
Indians. This Committee makes funding and other relevant decisions 
regarding science to be funded to support the CEQA/NEPA process. A 
Science Subcommittee (Subcommittee) has been established to serve as an 
advisory committee to provide scientific evaluations and 
recommendations to the Committee. The Subcommittee functions as a 
coordinated body to determine information gaps, identify science/
information needs, and provide the Committee with recommendations for 
funding priorities regarding the science activities.
    The draft EIR/EIS is expected to be completed by the end of 
December 1999.

    Dated: June 16, 1998.
LeGrand Neilson,
Acting Regional Director, Lower Colorado Region.
[FR Doc. 98-17022 Filed 6-25-98; 8:45 am]
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