Fish and Wildlife Service refused to attend a September congressional hearing to discuss the government’s role in cleaning up the lake. In this report, we discuss the changing conditions in and around the Sea, their statewide importance, and the Legislature’s role in overseeing projects to reduce potential negative effects on public health and wildlife. So we’re seeing some work,” said Garcia. A flat patch of dirt covered several hundred dry acres, dotted with a few dead trees. That's a big problem for people in the area. The Salton Sea is one of few wetland habitats remaining in California. “I’m nervous, and I’m scared to see my son like that,” Juarez said. This comment letter focuses on how the California Water Resilience Portfolio can incorporate multiple benefits when prioritizing and funding water management strategies throughout the state. In January 2020, California state agencies released a draft document meant to signify a new chapter in California water: the Water Resilience Portfolio. You're more likely to see a "Keep Tahoe Blue" bumpersticker in Palm Springs than you are stickers referring to the Salton Sea. An estimated 131 square miles of playa will be dry and exposed to the air by the time the lake reaches a degree of equilibrium — meaning the inflow from three small waterways and agricultural runoff will maintain a smaller lake — in 2047. In response to competing demands, the 2003 agreement diverted water from the Imperial Valley. When the Natural Resources Agency is finally ready for large-scale builds, the budget could get in the way. Pacific Institute A dock sits where the water from the Salton Sea used to reach. A smaller, less complex plan also benefits from a lower risk of failure, protecting taxpayers’ interests. There are multiple interconnected issues adversely affecting the health of the Salton Sea. In 1905, the Salton Sea was formed when a levy on the Colorado River broke causing flooding of the Imperial Valley. It’s been almost two decades since an agreement was signed in 2003, committing the Imperial Irrigation District, the Colorado River’s largest user, to conserve water that once flowed from farms into the lake and send it to other districts. No single plan does a very good job of satisfying the primary legal mandate to maximize feasible fish and wildlife habitat while eliminating air quality impacts from the restoration project and protecting water quality. The state is appropriating some funds, but the federal government has been slow to pitch in. Now the lake gets replenished by irrigation runoff and "municipal and industrial drainage," according to the … “We don’t have the reserves that we had prior to COVID-19,” Garcia said. Now, for the first time, there are concrete plans for restoring the Sea and enough information to make educated decisions. We no longer have the luxury of delay and inaction. Cons: Even if private investors are willing to tap into a speculative water venture, the projects, costing up to … The Salton Sea would be recovered with a permanent supply of water. Knowing the lake would recede, the state committed to mitigating the health and environmental impacts. Beyond those human health impacts, failure to act will cost local and state taxpayers, as well as local property owners, far more in coming years than any action taken now to avoid a known hazard. They believe algae, products from which are can produce the raw materials for fuel, can be grown on farmland around the Salton Sea. Visibility is so poor you can’t see down the block. The eight restoration plans under consideration vary in scope, cost and time to complete. Juarez, in Salton City, welcomes the efforts but believes that if this problem affected a wealthier, whiter area like Palm Springs, it would’ve been addressed already. For Juarez, who began working in the fields when she was just 15, the clock is ticking on the American dream her family built in the California desert. But Arturo Delgado, an assistant secretary with the Natural Resources Agency and the state’s Salton Sea czar, pointed out that a portion of the more than $355 million set aside for the lake — 99 percent of it from bonds — needed to be spent sorting out permits and access to a complex checkerboard of state, tribal, federal and private land. The Sea is too important, and ultimately, too costly, not to save. “For a very long time, the enormity of the challenge at the sea was frankly overwhelming, and there was very little action at the state level until 2014 or 2015,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, the lead department tasked with restoring the sea. The Salton Sea is California’s largest inland lake, located in Riverside and Imperial Counties. Finally, Juarez got a runny nose and sore throat that lasted for days when the dust blew. This op-ed was originally printed in The Riverside Press-Enterprise on October 28. If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. That one completed site, the Bruchard Road Dust Suppression Project, looks like someone tried to farm the surface of the moon. A compromise plan could include both a 10,000 acre recreational lake – more than twice the size of the next-largest existing lake in southern California – and sufficient wildlife habitat and air quality protection to address legal requirements. Now the Desert Shores, California, area has a stagnant pool of water left at the bottom of the former canals. The Salton Sea is a huge body of water, almost 50 percent larger than the San Fernando Valley. The result of an irrigation accident over 100 years ago, the Salton Sink (below sea level) started filling with water, and having no natural outlet, the water’s getting pretty stagnant, toxic, and just plain yucky. For more than 40 years, Californians have been studying and debating ideas about saving the Salton Sea. For a shallow body of water, the Salton Sea holds a large amount of sunk costs. And while California regularly calls on bonds to fund large projects, that money can’t be used for operations and maintenance. So, she asked, “Why is nothing getting done?”. Its windborne dust travels across Southern California and into Arizona, but nearby communities — many of them populated by Latino farmworkers — bear the heaviest burden. Mette Lampcov. letting the sea die will cause significant harm to both public health and wildlife in Southern California and beyond. Ruiz, who was struck by the high rates of respiratory illnesses in the area, compares the lake to a patient “in need of triage.”. The Sea is too important, and ultimately, too costly, not to save. The canal was fixed by 1907, but the Salton Sea had been created. A dock sits where the water from the Salton Sea used to reach. Even if the farmers, environmentalists, tribes, developers, and local communities agreed tomorrow on a compromise plan, it still will be years before construction begins, and many years after that before the project is completed. Yet California, though largely responsible for fixing it, has barely touched the more than 25 square miles of exposed playa. Cleanup along the New River, one of three small waterways flowing into the lake, comes with a $28 million bill. Yet a failure to agree on a compromise plan will keep the Sea mired in inaction, and could squander our best opportunity for saving the Salton Sea. This website uses cookies to provide you with the best browsing experience. Within the next 20-30 years, the Sea will be dealt the greatest insult, as the volume of water that sustains this 360-square mile lake will decrease by more than 40 percent, rapidly shrinking the lake and increasing the amount of dust and salt that blows through the Imperial and Coachella valleys. Several proposals to ‘fix’ the sea are being considered. 6 years after Flint water crisis, Michigan’s ex-governor to face charges, In the shadow of Amazon, resistance takes root in San Bernardino. This comment letter conveys summary comments and suggestions on the draft Water Resilience Portfolio released by California state agencies, drawing on the considerable experience Pacific Institute has around themes of water efficiency, stormwater management, and the Salton Sea. Even if the farmers, environmentalists, tribes, developers, and local communities agreed tomorrow on a compromise plan, it still will be years before construction begins, and many years after that before the project is completed. Currently, 16 state employees are planning projects to tamp down dust or rebuild wetlands, and that will grow to 26 once new positions approved in the latest budget are filled. This presentation on the Salton Sea presented by Michael Cohen at the 2019 GWC Summer Conference covers progress at the sea, the Colorado River and the sea, new bargains, and potential solutions. It’s difficult to find hope in stepwise permit approvals while dust fights through cracks in her home. Powered by Create your own unique website with customizable templates. Ruiz said that divergent visions had stalled progress, while egos got in the way. “You’ve got a dying patient,” he said, “and if you don’t act now, he’ll be dead.” All this Salton is making me thirsty This means that unlike most lakes which have an outflow, the Salton Sea only has inflow. Of course, such compromise will not be perfect. Need a daily dose of good climate news? There is something majestic about the Salton Sea, one of the world's largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at -227 below sea level. Some prioritize economic development; some emphasize habitat creation; one seeks to minimize water requirements. Visibility is so poor you can’t see down the block. Salinity Eutrophication Migrating Birds Air Quality. Years of indecisiveness mixed with land-access and permitting issues have bogged down the process; the state’s own efforts to clean up the ecological disaster got stuck in the compliance process. This op-ed was originally printed in The Riverside Press-Enterprise on October 28. The problem isn’t new. Webpage: Salton Sea That meant that the lake’s level was guaranteed to drop. Fortunately, California has left the door open for a plan that mixes and matches elements from among the eight alternatives to satisfy the environmental and public health mandates as well as provide economic opportunity. The region already is home to California’s highest childhood asthma hospitalization rate—increases in airborne dust will only impact more children, and possibly the region’s growing elderly population. Red flags flutter outside the schools in Salton City when the air quality is dangerous. In 2020, the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District slapped the state and feds with notices of violation for failing to complete dust-control projects. Knowing human nature, if the public reads that they have 35 years to fix the Sea, it is not an imminent problem; it’s one that can be deferred for more pressing current matters. But more expensive wetland habitat restoration is needed; the lake has long been an important feeding ground along the Pacific Flyway, a migratory bird route on the Western Seaboard. “In the coming months, we’ll be breaking ground in the southern western part of the sea, on the species habitat conservation plan that’s close to three or four-thousand acres of habitat restoration and air quality mitigation. To view the Coalition’s assessment of the proposed restoration alternatives, visit http://www.saltonseacoalition.org/reportcard But she couldn’t leave her job, harvesting vegetables in the fields that form square oases in the Coachella Valley. Once again a floodgate was omitted. Tractors dug long, straight furrows through the white, sandy playa to catch the windblown dust. Gavin Newsom promised an additional $220 million, but that was predicated on a bond. Since entering Congress in 2013, he has tried to rally local lawmakers and called on the federal government to take a more active role. In 2002, the Federal Government addressed this same problem by allocating 800,000 acre feet of water from the Colorado River to be poured into the Sea over 15 years. “It’s OK. Just go to the office,” she’d say. In 1905, these human engineering errors allowed saline water to be carried from a flooded Colorado River into the Salton Sink area, thus creating the present-day Salton Sea. In the context of shrinking wetland habitats, the Salton Sea has become a critical habitat for migratory birds to stop and rest during their annual journeys. This led to an 18 month period where the water was freely flowing into the Basin. The Salton Sea is a huge body of water, almost 50 percent larger than the San Fernando Valley. Run a high-capacity aqueduct inbound from the Gulf of California which lies to the south. But the Salton Sea is just 43 feet at its maximum depth. The Salton Sea’s problems are symptomatic of problems across the Colorado River basin. By Sara Jerome, @sarmje. Not surprisingly, the scale and cost of the various restoration plans are also huge and complex. As of late November, state agencies had used about $53 million, most of it going to ledger entries, including “studies and planning activities,” “staffing and other design costs” and “annual surveys to monitor bird and fish populations.” Glaring zeros marked the “expended” column next to several construction budgets. Some prioritize economic development; some emphasize habitat creation; one seeks to minimize water requirements. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that California can simply ignore or dismiss. He acknowledged the delays, but called the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project “proof of concept that we can get a shovel-to-ground project started,” adding, “My No. However, after the levy was fixed, there was no longer a flow of water into the lake. The Salton Sea is a large body of water (a saline lake) in southern California, falling within both Riverside County and Imperial County. But the leading contender for a fix may prove to be only a short-term solution. TweetShareShare. She takes her children to the doctor every six months and worries about Lihan. The people in Salton City and other towns around the retreating lake are still waiting. After decades of false starts and false hopes, progress might finally be within reach for California’s Salton Sea – the state’s largest and most maligned lake. The Salton Sea’s shoreline is receding, exposing a dusty lakebed known as the “playa.” This sandy substance holds a century’s worth of agricultural runoff, including DDT, ammonia, possibly carcinogenic herbicides like trifluralin and other chemicals. The Salton Sea is a shallow, landlocked body of water that has a high concentration of salts in Riverside and Imperial counties. She doesn’t want to move away but is finally considering it. Grist is powered by WordPress.com VIP. Kim Delfino and Michael Cohen, of Defenders of Wildlife and the Pacific Institute respectively, are members of the Salton Sea Coalition, an organization dedicated to restoring the Salton Sea. The state and federal governments have spent about $70 million so far, largely on salaries and studies. Those days worry Miriam Juarez the most. At 227 feet below sea level, it's also one of the lowest spots on the planet. Conditions at the Sea will change rapidly in coming years, with potentially catastrophic effects on human health and resultant litigation over who is responsible for the choking clouds of dust blowing off the dried Sea bed. Still, the state must overcome funding issues, disagreements with the feds, permitting bottlenecks, and decades of inertia. In some places, you can't see the opposite shore because of the earth's curvature. An October visit found it far from inspiring. http://www.saltonseacoalition.org/reportcard, Pacific Institute Provides Comments on California Water Resilience Portfolio, Comment Letter on the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio for the State of California Regarding a Multi-Benefit Approach, Comment Letter on the Draft Water Resilience Portfolio for the State of California. The people who live … The water in California's Salton Sea is vanishing. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that California can simply ignore or dismiss. 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