Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release, Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Elden Hughes, Chair, CA/NV Desert Committee, Sierra Club, (562) 941-5306
Greg Cervantes, Cabazon Director of Public Affairs, (760) 342-2593
Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity, (909) 659-6053 x 306
Brendan Cummings, Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity, (909) 659-6053 x 301

Environmental Groups & Cabazon Indians Join Together to Save Salton Sea
Bush Administration Failing to Protect California's Largest Inland Body of Water

Los Angeles -- The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians filed a lawsuit today in Federal District Court in Riverside against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and the federal Bureau of Reclamation for their failure to protect the Salton Sea from over-salinization. According to the lawsuit, the Bureau of Reclamation has failed to complete an Environmental Impact Statement to examine future management of the Sea, thereby endangering the birds and fish dependent on the Sea and frustrating the purpose of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Reclamation Act. The Salton Sea, located in the southeastern corner of California, is the state's largest lake and essential habitat for hundreds of species of migratory waterfowl and other birds on the Pacific Flyway.

At 1pm today, the Cabazon Nation will host a press conference about the Salton Sea and this lawsuit today at the Tribal Administration Office in the Tribal Council Chambers, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio CA. Elden Hughes and Daniel Patterson will also be there.

"California's desert is a land of grandeur, and the Salton Sea is its crown jewel," said Elden Hughes, Chairman of the Desert Committee of the Sierra Club. "Californians from across the state treasure the Salton Sea and come here to camp, bird-watch, fish, boat and hike."

"The Salton Sea is one of the most important and imperiled locations along the Pacific Flyway," said Peter Galvin, California Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "With over 90% of California's wetlands destroyed, the Salton Sea provides essential habitat for dozens of rare birds and must be protected."

The Salton Sea Reclamation Act of 1998 was passed in the wake of Congressman Sonny Bono's tragic death and mandated the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation to develop a comprehensive plan by 2000 to stabilize and restore the Salton Sea. A draft plan was prepared in 1999 but the plan was never finalized, even as threats to the Sea have increased. The Sea now faces rising salinity and salt concentration is reaching a level where it is likely to interfere with fish reproduction and survival. Today's lawsuit seeks to compel Secretary Norton and the Bureau of Reclamation to release a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Salton Sea Reclamation Plan in accordance with the 1998 law, and prohibit any action that may harm the Sea until the plan is finalized.

"The Salton Sea is our heritage," said John A. James, Tribal Chairman of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. "We have decided to join the litigation in partnership with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club because we must protect the Sea. It is the tribe's hope that the Bureau of Reclamation will finally do what is right and reduce the lake's salinity, stabilize water levels, create a long term plan for preserving fish, bird and wildlife, and improve the potential for recreational use and economic development."

As California's wetlands have disappeared, the Salton Sea has played an increasingly critical role as habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds. In total, more than 400 species of birds have been recorded at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, the largest number of species found on any national wildlife refuge in the West. Populations of up to 1.5 million Eared Grebes have been documented at the sea during recent years, along with up to one-half of California's wintering White-faced Ibis, tens of thousands of White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Caspian Terns, and the largest breeding population of Gull-billed Terns in western North America. Several endangered species, including the desert pupfish, brown pelican, and the Yuma clapper rail inhabit the Sea or adjacent habitats.

The Groups are represented in the legal action by attorneys Brian Litmans of the Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, Geoff Hickcox of Kenna and Hickcox, and Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity.

For a copy of the lawsuit complaint, please contact Daniel Patterson.

For more on the Salton Sea, California's Everglades, please visit:


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