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Accord reached to restore Salton Sea
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EL CENTRO  (AP) — Imperial County leaders have hammered out a deal to restore the Salton Sea and raise $3 billion to revive the shoreline economy driven by new alternative-energy development.

The accord announced Tuesday ends more than a decade of infighting between the county and the Imperial Irrigation District over the ongoing sale of water to the San Diego region, the U-T San Diego newspaper reported.

The proposal calls for building of a transmission line to tie geothermal production into the statewide grid and convincing utilities to buy renewable geothermal power.

Officials said the geothermal development could be worth at least $3 billion over 30 years to help pay for the sea's revival.

The proposal also calls for the construction of a pipeline to bring desalinated water from the Sea of Cortez and imposing a surcharge on Hoover Dam power used by Southern California agencies to move water.

The new agreement does not change the terms of the ongoing water transfer between Imperial and the San Diego County Water Authority signed in 2003.

Imperial County supervisors and Imperial Irrigation District directors are expected to formally sign the eight-page agreement Thursday at Red Hill Marina on the sea's southeastern bank.

Both boards on Tuesday voted unanimously to accept the terms of the new pact after hearing a handful of comments from farmers and others. No one urged outright rejection of the agreement.

In the past, critics had complained that the sea is an agricultural sump and not worth the investment of billions of dollars in federal, state and local tax dollars.

Saving the sea has been a vexing challenge for the state. At one point the state outlined a $9 billion, 50-year plan that fizzled. Last year the state gave $2 million to help fund ongoing studies. Moreover, Imperial officials are facing the very real possibility of imposing tighter air-quality regulations on business to comply with federal standards, according to the newspaper. Those regulations could increase costs and drive away some business, increasing unemployment even higher than the current 26 percent, they say

Created in 1905 when floodwaters broke through a Colorado River irrigation canal, the 376-square-mile Salton Sea is bigger than Lake Tahoe but is only 51 feet deep at its deepest spot and has no outlet to the ocean. Ninety percent of its water comes from agricultural runoff from the nearby Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali valleys.

The lake, which is 235 feet below sea level, is 50 percent saltier than the ocean, and salinity levels are expected to increase even more as it shrinks.

It is a popular recreational destination for boaters, bird watchers, campers and anglers who fish for species introduced there.