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”
The Salton Sea Water Incremental Funding in Time (SSWIFT) proposal is another reason to be optimistic about restoration at the Sea.  SSWIFT, which is backed by County of Riverside District Supervisor John Benoit and the Salton Sea Authority (SSA), could be a simple solution for mitigating fugitive dust while other projects that focus on wildlife preservation and energy development are established around the Sea. Continue reading “Let’s be SSWIFT about it”
Several previous posts have discussed the ecological importance of the Salton Sea, particularly its effect on migratory birds. However, the Salton Sea is also home to a much less obvious endangered species, the tiny desert pupfish. Desert pupfish, which are less than 3” long fully grown, are an unusual species due to their incredible tolerance for extreme water conditions. The desert pupfish can survive at salinities of up to 70 g/L—more than double the salt concentration of seawater. This has historically allowed the desert pupfish to live in saline lakes, rivers, and marshes throughout the deserts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Mexico.
Ask anyone who cares about the Salton Sea and surrounding areas what it is they want for the Sea, and you will almost unanimously hear, “restoration,” as part of their response. Everyone will have a different perspective on the definition of that term, but common denominators include: 1) protecting public health by keeping water on the playa, or exposed lakebed, thereby preventing increased fugitive dust, and 2) supporting an ecosystem comprised of plants, fish, and birds.
Salton Sea advocates all have a new, long overdue reason to celebrate with the beginning of construction for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project at the southeast portion of the Sea. On Thursday, November 5, 2015, two Salton Sea Sense members, Holly Mayton and Drew Story, attended the “playa breaking” ceremony where local, state, and federal partners broke ground. Under the supervision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this project aims to blend together Alamo River water with existing Salton Sea water, and cover 450 acres of currently exposed playa, thereby creating a saline wetland habitat for birds; addressing those two common denominators previously mentioned.
Much like the Salton Sea, many inland bodies of water suffer from rising salinity, which can harm biota and prevent beneficial water use. This salinization occurs when soil, which contains salts and minerals, is mobilized from clearing natural vegetation or when fresh water is diverted for irrigation.  As irrigation water and drinking water sources become increasingly salty, different solutions become necessary to recover freshwater. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leader in desalination, which is the industrial process of removing salt from water, with 50% of the nation’s drinking water recovered from seawater.  At the Salton Sea, desalination is being explored as a part of habitat restoration efforts. Continue reading “Desalting the Sea: Part 1”
For as long as the Sea has been considered an environmental catastrophe in the making, there have been proposals to counter its demise. Of the numerous proposals to reshape and restore the Sea and its ecosystem, none have been fully endorsed by the State. One reason for the lack of action is that stakeholders have different priorities with regards to the importance of issues such as salinity, dust, and energy development. However, one aspect all stakeholders have stood behind is habitat restoration. Habitat restoration is advantageous to all parties because these projects have the dual purpose of restoring the shoreline for the bird and fish communities and mitigating the exposure of noxious dust. Several habitat restoration projects will be reviewed herein. Continue reading “Habitat Restoration: Common Ground”
Last week, Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) released a draft of a proposal developed to be presented to the State of California. This proposal, named the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI) is different from previous remediation proposals submitted on behalf of the Salton Sea by various groups. This proposal in particular does not merely ask for a large sum of money, but delineates just how the state can fund the project and recover its investment. Continue reading “Response to SSRREI”
The primary issue at the Salton Sea is the declining water level due to reduced water inflows and excessive evaporative losses. The main consequence of this is an increase in salinity, which in turn creates a sequence of other complications. The increasing nutrient concentration causes a dense growth of phytoplankton and plant life which deprives the Sea of oxygen and causes massive fish die offs. As the fish die, many bird species find it difficult to survive. In addition, as the Sea dries it exposes playa, which releases dust containing dangerous chemical compounds buried at the bottom of the Sea from decades of agricultural runoff.
It is evident that the consequences of allowing the Salton Sea to dry are quite disastrous and that they affect the aesthetic and ecological integrity of the Sea. It might seem that the key to preventing the Salton Sea from drying up lies in simply increasing the amount of water that goes into the Sea, but where to get the water from? That is a question that is far from simple and one that might not have a reasonable answer.
The Salton Sea: once a prized weekend destination, now a dilapidated afterthought in the middle of the desert. The Sea lost its appeal to many people after it became highly saline and oxygen-deprived from agricultural run-off. These conditions lead to massive fish kills that created shores composed of fish bones and seasonal pungent odors. Today, the fate of the Sea is uncertain. On its current trajectory, with the impending reduction of water due to the Quantification Settlement Agreement and with no plan to prevent its demise, the Salton Sea will become an ecological disaster and public health burden. Here at Salton Sea Sense we all agree that something needs to be done about the Salton Sea. However, there is a lot of debate about who should be stepping up to take responsibility to make the decision and to fund restoration projects. The problem is there are so many different parties involved in the Salton Sea that it is impossible to determine who is most affected by the Sea and its fish bone beaches.
You could say that keeping track of all the stakeholders in the Salton Sea is almost as confusing as trying to keep track of all the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In honor of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, we give you: Game of Bones (cue theme song). Continue reading “Fish Bones and Game of Thrones”