Public Release: 

$2 Million Dollar Grant Funds Salton Sea Web Site

University of Redlands

The University of Redlands will operate a federally funded information Web site and database to help officials solve the problems threatening the Salton Sea. California's largest lake "is an ecosystem in collapse," said Timothy Krantz, project manager for the Salton Sea Database Program and assistant professor of environmental studies. "If nothing is done to address the problems, the Salton Sea could be a dead sea in about 15 years."

The Salton Sea Database Program is funded by a $2 million grant administered through the Environmental Protection Agency.

The University of Redlands is a liberal arts university with a growing reputation in the field of environmental management, particularly through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. A leading developer of GIS is Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), a company based in the city of Redlands, which will provide technical support for the project.

Two years ago, university undergraduate students collaborated with the federal government and private mining companies to determine areas of conflict between environmental and mining interests in the San Bernardino National Forest. "Our job is to collect the data, organize and analyze it, and then re-distribute it to the people making the decisions. We are uniquely qualified to undertake this task because we have no stake in the outcome," said Krantz, who has worked on other major wetlands restoration projects as an environmental consultant over the past 20 years.

Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) introduced legislation that funded the database program. The bill received bipartisan support, including from the four other House representatives from the Salton Sea area: George Brown (D-San Bernardino), Ken Calvert (R-Riverside), Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) and the late Sonny Bono (R-Palm Springs).

"We are beginning a very exciting and environmentally challenging project that may lead to the restoration of the single largest body of water in California," said Lewis.

"University-based research, combined with the efforts of the best scientific minds in the country, is our best hope for breathing new life into this natural resource."

Redlands underwent a yearlong internal and external review process before being awarded the EPA funds, ensuring that the program would meet both the university's liberal arts mission and the EPA's standards of research and reporting.

The Salton Sea program will be operated through the university's Center for Environmental Management, a GIS-based resource management and planning program. Krantz is interim director of the center.

The Salton Sea Database Program will include historical and cultural information about the region, climate data, soil analyses, water-quality information, uses and ownership of surrounding land, and the types of vegetation and animal life in the area.

Actually a landlocked lake, the Salton Sea is located 30 miles south of Indio in a desert valley 278 feet below sea level. The lake stretches across Riverside and Imperial counties and measures 40 miles long and 17 miles wide. It is the major Pacific Flyway stopover each year for more than 1 million migratory birds-380 of the 900 species found in North America. It also supports a $1 billion-a-year fishing and agricultural industry.

The past two years have provided dramatic evidence of a lake in trouble: massive die-offs of millions of diseased fish and hundreds of thousands of birds. Human health warnings have been issued on several occasions as a result. Most experts believe these problems are caused or exacerbated by water pollution and high salt levels. Salinity levels are 25 percent higher than the ocean, and salt content increases by 4 million tons a year.

A consortium of water districts and government agencies known as the Salton Sea Authority is exploring various solutions, including building a system of dikes and evaporation pools, a desalination treatment plant or water-pumping systems. All these projects would be massive undertakings, with estimated costs ranging from $200 million to $1 billion. Each also would have its own side effects on the environment.

The database program will help officials and researchers choose the best alternative and complete environmental impact studies required before any project can begin.

The university will work to translate existing and new information about the Salton Sea watershed area into computer files. Using GIS software, the information then will be analyzed geographically to create layered maps representing the different types of data.

The Internet site and a traditional library are scheduled to be ready by summer 1998.


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