Federal Support for the Salton Sea

In 2007, Senator Barbara Boxer, along with other sponsors, pushed to pass the Water Resources Development Act into law, overriding a presidential veto. In addition to other projects across the country, the bill laid out several steps for designing and implementing a series of pilot projects to investigate ways of avoiding and mitigating the possible impacts of the drying Salton Sea. First, pilot projects would be chosen based on their feasibility as described in the Department of Water Resources’ funding plan. Then, appropriate pilot projects—if approved by the state and the Salton Sea Authority—would be implemented with the state paying 35% of the cost and federal funding supplying the rest. The bill concludes with a federal spending authorization: $30,000,000, intended for the support of at least six separate pilot projects. Continue reading “Federal Support for the Salton Sea”

Salton Sea and the New Normal

Last month, Salton Sea Sense had the opportunity to host and hear from Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute. The Pacific Institute aims to provide science-based leadership and outreach to inform public water policy, and Cohen has been working specifically on the Salton Sea since 1998. He recently published an excellent Institute blog post on the current “fortunes and prospects” at the Sea, which is available here.

In his talk at UC Riverside, Cohen outlined some of the challenges that continue to face the Salton Sea. One of those challenges is the perception of Sea as an “artificial” ecosystem, which we have previously blogged about. Cohen pointed out that the whole of the State of California’s water is part of a managed system that includes man-made aqueducts, reservoirs and pumps. The Salton Sea is an essential part of this system as one of the last remaining aquatic habitat options in the southwestern United States for birds on the Pacific Flyway. Continue reading “Salton Sea and the New Normal”

Year in Review

This week, Salton Sea Sense is celebrating its one-year anniversary of blogging about the ecological, environmental, and cultural value of the Salton Sea. We have had the opportunity to explore and enjoy the Sea, meet passionate community members and informative stakeholders, and engage in a wide range of science and policy-making conversations on the future of the Sea. Plus, we have had a lot of fun doing it.

Here are the most popular Salton Sea Sense blog posts for the past year: Continue reading “Year in Review”

The Other Changing Sea Level

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In his final State of the Union address, President Obama put more emphasis on climate change than ever before [1]. Scientists no longer dispute the fact that humans are having an impact on the earth, and global leaders have come to an agreement that involves taking actions to fight climate change and mitigate its negative effects [2].

The impacts of climate change are already visible around the world, from extreme storms and fluctuating temperatures, to long droughts and threatened Continue reading “The Other Changing Sea Level”

New Year’s Resolutions for the Salton Sea

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Since the 1980s, several studies have been conducted and many options have been evaluated to address the impending environmental challenges posed by the Salton Sea’s current conditions. Unfortunately, minimal changes have been implemented to improve the harsh conditions that are ever worsening for the local communities and ecosystems. Here at Salton Sea Sense, we are hopeful that 2016 will be the year that the Salton Sea finally gets the attention it needs to provide remediation for the exposed playa and secure a bright future. Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions for the Salton Sea”

Join us for the Christmas Bird Count!

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Every winter, local chapters of the National Audubon Society host Christmas Bird Counts all over the Americas. These counts attract tens of thousands of volunteers who participate in observing and collecting data to help assess the health of bird populations and ultimately guide conservation action. Continue reading “Join us for the Christmas Bird Count!”

A Clean Bill(s) of Health for Salton Sea Residents

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Last week, an article was published by KCET that addressed the question of Why Don’t Californians Care About Saving the Salton Sea? The authors conclude that the seemingly artificial nature of the Sea is what keeps it from gaining public support, especially by environmental activists. However, I would argue that the real issue with getting Californians to care about the Salton Sea is an issue of environmental justice. Residents of the Salton Sea region are among the poorest in the country, and simply don’t have the affluence to attract the level of attention that saving the Sea requires. In southern California, this makes it difficult to compete with the interests of neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and La Jolla.

However, we can see some progress being made to address these issues. Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown took action on some key legislation for the Coachella Valley, including the bills AB 2 and AB 1059. Continue reading “A Clean Bill(s) of Health for Salton Sea Residents”

The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians

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The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians has resided in the northern region of the Salton basin since 1876, when President Ulysses S. Grant officially established their tribe through an executive order. Members of the modern day Torres-Martinez Band have a large investment in the Salton Sea, literally. Over 10,000 acres of their Native American Reservation, nearly half of the total checker-boarded 24,800 acres, lie under the surface of the Sea, unreachable by the tribe until the water line recedes (Figure 1). However, the story of this underwater acreage is often reported incorrectly.

Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2006standards/rec/letters/T_Torres_Martinez_Tribal_Council_CMT.pdf
Figure 1. Map of the Torres-Martinez reservation and surrounding area. Click to enlarge. Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2…

When the Salton Sea was formed in 1905, the Torres-Martinez did not own much, if any of the affected land. Rather in 1909, an amendment to the Mission Indian Relief Act granted the Torres-Martinez an additional 12,000 acres of land, 9,000 of which were beneath the newly formed Salton Sea. However, this was not meant to be a practical joke played by the federal government. Based on the evaporation rate of the Sea at the time, most people expected the land to be dry and available to the tribe within 25 years [1].

Then, agriculture in the Salton Sea region began to take off in the years following, and natural runoff and irrigation drainage from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys has kept most of the Torres-Martinez land submerged. Continue reading “The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians”

People and Prosperity

When we talk about the Salton Sea, the discussion often revolves around science, environment, and economics. How toxic is the water, exactly? Which types of birds rely on the sea’s existence? What is the price tag on implementing restoration projects? While these are all great conversations, we often forget the major and arguably most important factor: the role of people.

From afar, students, researchers, and policymakers around California and the world gawk at the state of the Salton Sea, while thousands of people reside near the Sea and experience its stench and beauty every day. A local photographer seeks to share the stories of these people through Salton Sea Speaks.

At the Salton Sea, a real dilemma of environmental justice has emerged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as [1]:

“… the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

Continue reading “People and Prosperity”