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California and the West

Senate Allocates $5 Million for Salton Sea Study

October 14, 1998|ANN L. KIM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Tuesday to allocate $5 million to study restoration options for California's heavily polluted Salton Sea, but declined to set aside $300 million for funding any recommended cleanup projects in the future.

The legislation--which will probably be added to the omnibus appropriations bill in the House and approved by the end of the week--authorizes the funding for research that by 2000 would recommend ways to reclaim the body of water. The Senate also earmarked $3 million for cleanup of a polluted feeder river.

The man-made Salton Sea, 30 miles south of Indio, was once a popular resort area that drew such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Marx brothers to its shores.

Now it is a concern for environmentalists because of its high salt levels and the unexplained deaths of thousands of birds that stop there during their annual migrations.

In July, the House passed a measure in honor of the late Sonny Bono that called for $380 million in funds for the sea's restoration, a project that he had made a priority as a Republican congressman from Palm Springs.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wrote the Senate version of the legislation, which called for $30 million to be authorized for research and $300 million for subsequent cleanup of the sea.

Boxer said Tuesday she was satisfied with the allocation. "Although this legislation does not incorporate all of the necessary authorization to complete the recovery of the Salton Sea as my original bill would have done, it is a necessary step toward that goal," Boxer said.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who opposed the amount set aside in Boxer's proposal, "had a great deal of concern about an authorization bill that would have spent quite a large sum of money . . . for an undefined project without hearings in the appropriate committees of jurisdiction," said Vince Sollitto, the senator's press secretary.

Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) said her husband would have been frustrated that the Senate has not yet authorized full funding of a restoration plan for the Salton Sea. However, she said, "I'm still very happy because it's a step in the right direction."

She said she will move early next session to pursue funding for a Salton Sea reclamation project.

The National Audubon Society expressed disappointment that more funding could not be made available for studying what it called an "environmental Chernobyl."

"We're obviously very pleased that the Senate has recognized that the Salton Sea is an issue of significant concern," said Evan Hirsche, Audubon's wildlife refuge campaign director. "But when you've got a disaster on the order of the Salton Sea, to allocate only $8 million seems woefully inadequate."

Efforts to restore the Salton Sea have already received some federal funding. Earlier this month, a conference committee negotiating federal appropriations earmarked $13.4 million in research and reclamation funds for the Salton Sea. In addition, Congress has allocated $6 million to research efforts in the past two years.

The Salton Sea "is a major environmental asset in Southern California, and for those people who represent the area, it has been a pretty high priority," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee.

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