Importing water to save the Salton Sea is long overdue. What are we waiting for?

the Salton Sea is drying
the Salton Sea is drying
Feliz Nunez Special to The Desert Sun

For various reasons, the Salton Sea is drying: rural-urban water transfers and sales, drought and manmade pollution. We have local water scarcity and poor-quality air. Due to urban population explosions, some of the Colorado River water that once went into the Salton Sea is now being sold to the Coachella Valley Water District, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Salton Sea is drying at a faster speed as temperatures rise and there is less water flowing into it. If we are to reverse the situation, this will demand decreasing water use and increasing the cost of water.

As the Salton Sea dries, air pollution rises as there is more dust, and it emits more stench in the form of hydrogen sulfide gas.  Waste and chemicals coming from the Imperial Valley, together with Mexicali’s population explosion, are an overwhelming septic cargo for outdated infrastructure. Wastewater plants that have not been updated allow raw sewage and industrial chemicals to escape into the Alamo and New Rivers. These so-called rivers drain additional pollutants into the Salton Sea. Beneath the shrinking lake lie other pollutants: munitions from the World War II era, tons of pesticides, fertilizers and organic dead matter, which when exposed to the air release carbon dioxide and methane.

Dust at Salton Sea

Owens Lake in Northern California became a disastrous dust bowl when the city of Los Angeles built a 200-mile aqueduct and completely drained the lake. This lifeless northern California site stretches for miles, with a patchwork of dust-control projects like furrowing, covering the lake bottom with gravel, plantings, and sprinkler systems costing $2.5 billion to install. There are millions more in maintenance costs every year.

Officials at the Salton Sea are following the Owens Lake path. Their ongoing practice of digging furrows and shallow ponds to control dust as more and more lakebed is exposed is questionable. Not only are these methods ineffective, they cause more greenhouse gas emissions!  The Salton Sea is three times bigger than Owens Lake, so following that path could cost an estimated $7.5 billion.

Politicians and state officials who favor using the “incremental approach” with patronizing dry measures and shallow-water fixtures have succeeded in the serial killing of fish and other wildlife, and we are heading toward ever-more inhospitable conditions for humans. Importing ocean water would immediately address respiratory ailments, reverse the effects of drought and curb pollution. But the high cost is the main argument against water importation. In my view that expense is worth it. Yes, it will cost money to be a community that respects and takes care of our air, water, and soil.

Unlike Owens Lake, the Salton Sea has two oceans close by; there are 13 proposals to build an aqueduct to import water — either from the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific Ocean. Leaders of the Salton Sea Management Authority have considered these proposals too costly. However, a feasibility study is now being conducted by UC Santa Cruz to evaluate the effectiveness of these plans to import water. Their report will be turned over in September to the Salton Sea Management Program’s Long Range Planning Committee.

It is uncertain if water Importation will pass the feasibility test. If passed, how much longer will it take to start the engineering for an aqueduct?

The engineering of water importation should have started with the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement that legalized redirecting Colorado River water away from the Salton Sea. The QSA also called for restoring the largest lake in California, the Salton Sea. What are we waiting for?

PLAN

PLAN – Divide the sea at the county line separating Riverside and Imperial Counties. Create a road at that point to connect HWY 111 to HWY 80. Create groundwater pumping stations surrounding the sea to access the century of water that has permeated the ground. The water that is accessed has been organically filtered naturally through decades of Colorado River water displaced since 1905.
Rob
P.S. – this will work inexpensively if anyone would listen
Salton Sea Management Plan

Army Corps of Engineers releases Draft Environmental Assessment for SSMP 10-Year Plan

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and proposed Letter of Permission procedures for the State of California’s Salton Sea Management Program Phase 1: 10-Year Plan (SSMP 10-Year Plan). For more information and to view the official Corps documents please visit:  https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Projects-Programs/.

As the federal lead agency, the Corps has prepared the Draft EA to analyze and disclose the effects of implementing the SSMP’s 10-Year Plan, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The SSMP 10-Year Plan proposes to implement a total of 29,800 acres of dust suppression and aquatic habitat restoration projects around the perimeter of the Salton Sea. At least 50 percent of the project acreage will be created as habitat for fish and wildlife that depend on the Salton Sea ecosystem and the remainder will be projects to suppress dust. Additionally, the Draft EA includes and evaluates actions by several federal agencies.

Public comments can be submitted on the Draft EA and proposed Letter of Permission procedures electronically to: splregssmp@usace.army.mil until 5:00pm (PST) on July 21, 2022.

In addition, the Corps will host three virtual public meetings to receive comments on the Draft EA and the Letter of Permission Procedures on the following dates and times:

July 7: 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.
July 12: 6 to 8 p.m.

Each of the three meetings will be the same and allow community members and stakeholders to provide input and official comments that will help shape the federal decision as to which projects are implemented, what community amenities are included, how potential environmental effects are addressed, and the proposed alternatives to be considered.

This vitally important comment period is your opportunity to help shape the projects coming to the Salton Sea as part of the SSMP’s 10-year Plan.

Spanish interpretation will be provided. Habrá interpretación al español.

Please click the link below to join the webinar:

Or join over the phone by dialing:
Teleconference Dial In: 888-278-0296
Access Code: 596019
Meeting ID: 81408174164

Facebook Live in Spanish: @SaltonSeaCOEE page
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Commentary: How the Salton Sea Came to Be Viewed as a ‘Lost Cause’

The Missing Link in the U.S. EV Supply Chain
Salton Sea.
Many view the Salton Sea as an ecological disaster, or a wasteland. This public perception, which is bound up in environmental racism, continues to undermine conservation efforts.

The Salton Sea is a place of stunning contradictions. For decades, Californians have tried to figure out what to make of it. Often described as a “man-made” or “accidental,” the Salton Sea formed between 1905 and 1907 when the Colorado River overflowed from an irrigation project into a deep bowl in the desert floor in present-day Imperial County.

Settlers described this flooding as an unprecedented disaster, but soon found a purpose for the sea as a receptacle for runoff from Imperial Valley farms. During the 50s and 60s, the sea became a popular tourist attraction, but rising water from increased irrigation flooded its hotels and resorts, driving the tourists away. Rumors about the health effects of swimming and angling in the pesticide-contaminated water also influenced the decline of the resorts.

Salton Sea included in $172 million in funding for ports and waterways projects
Salton Sea

In 2003, the Imperial Valley transferred its Colorado River water rights to San Diego, and the Salton Sea, which had been sustained by runoff from the valley for most of the twentieth century, lost much of its inflow. As the sea started to shrink, it released pesticides and other toxins leading to massive fish and bird die-offs over the course of two decades.

My recent book explores how, at different times viewed as a disaster, a sump, and a health resort, the Salton Sea came to be commonly viewed as a wasteland. Policymakers struggled to raise funds—and popular support—for the sea’s conservation. The area around it, subsequently, has been used for the kinds of industrial projects reserved for places held in low regard: mines, prisons, and military bases.

The Salton Sea wasn’t just an accident, despite its reputation as the result of engineering mistakes made by early settlers. In fact, it is the most recent example of a natural cycle of Colorado River overflows that have filled this part of the desert for thousands of years. Floods from the Colorado River have been big and small—vast inundations that resulted in water bodies like Lake Cahuilla and relatively small overflow pools that evaporated within months.

EPA fines Imperial Irrigation District for endangering local wetlands

Contact Information
Julia Giarmoleo (giarmoleo.julia@epa.gov)

213-326-2033

IMPERIAL, Calif. (June 2, 2022) – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with California’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID) for violations of the Clean Water Act related to polluting of local wetlands. Under the settlement, Imperial Irrigation District will pay a $299,857 penalty and provide mitigation to offset the harm to the environment.

Wetlands Salton Sea

“This enforcement action reflects EPA’s continued commitment to ensuring public utilities like Imperial Irrigation District comply with federal laws and prevent pollution of wetlands,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Actions like this are key to protecting our waterways and surrounding communities.”

On November 5, 2020, inspectors from EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspected IID’s construction of drain banks in the area and found that activities resulted in the discharge of sediment to approximately 1 acre of wetlands. This discharge also impacted approximately 20 acres of wetlands by severing the connection with Morton Bay, which drains to the Salton Sea.

In addition to paying the penalty, IID will develop a plan for the removal of the sediment in question and the restoration of the water connection to Morton Bay. If they are unable to restore the impacted site, IID would need to reestablish 63 acres of wetlands at an alternative location.

An overarching priority of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. A more specific federal goal is “No Net Loss” of wetlands by first avoiding, then minimizing, and finally compensating for any impacts to aquatic resources caused by the discharge of dredge or fill material into waters of the United States.

Wetlands Salton Sea

Wetlands protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, store floodwaters, and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. EPA works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to coordinate field research, damage assessments, and legal proceedings against entities who conduct unauthorized activities (e.g., dredging, filling, grading without a permit) in waters of the United States.

EPA has proposed a Consent Agreement and Final Order and is accepting public comment through July 5, 2022. View the public notice.

History of Lake Cahuilla before Salton Sea

Cahuilla Lake – Miragenews
San Diego State University

Today, the Salton Sea is an eerie place. Its mirror-like surface belies the toxic stew within. Fish skeletons line its shores and the ruins of a once thriving vacation playground is a reminder of better days. But long before agricultural runoff bespoiled the Salton Sea, the lakebed it now occupies was home to a much larger body of water known as Lake Cahuilla. The lake was six times the area of the Salton Sea and once covered much of Mexicali, Imperial and Coachella valleys.

“It was a freshwater lake that was about 100 meters deep in its deepest part,” said San Diego State University emeritus professor of geology Tom Rockwell. “It extended from up near Palm Springs southward into Mexico, so it was a very extensive lake.”

Lake Cahuilla has gone through many cycles of filling and drying out over thousands of years. A new study by Rockwell and his colleagues used radiocarbon dating to determine the timing of the last seven periods of filling. The research sheds light on both the history of human occupation in the area and its seismic past.

Wet and dry periods

Lake Cahuilla got its water from the Colorado River. Once a mighty waterway before it was siphoned off for agriculture and urbanization, the Colorado normally flowed south into the Gulf of California. But periodically, it switched course and began to drain northwest into the Salton Trough, refilling Lake Cahuilla. When full, the water level in the lake could rise to 13 meters above sea level.

“It has this tendency to flip-flop back and forth,” said Rockwell. “But when the Colorado drains to the Gulf of California, Lake Cahuilla would just dry up over a period of 50, 60, or 70 years.”

Sediments from these repeated filling events resulted in fertile soils in the Imperial Valley. An irrigation canal was created around 1900 to bring water from the Colorado River to the Valley for farming, but in 1905, springtime flooding ruptured the canal and gushed toward the Salton Trough, partially refilling the lake to form the Salton Sea. Once the breach was repaired, the water level remained well below that of Lake Cahuilla’s previous incarnations.

To reconstruct its early hydrologic history, Rockwell’s team sampled charcoal, wood, seeds and other organic matter from nearly a dozen in the former lake’s basin. The charcoal samples likely came from cooking fires once used by Indigenous people who inhabited the region.

 

Lake Cahuilla
Lake Cahuilla

Historical accounts told of the Colorado River flowing toward the Gulf of California rather than the Salton Trough in 1706, indicating that the lakebed was dry at that time. Based on radiocarbon dating of drowned stumps, Rockwell’s team determined that the last lake to form before the advent of the Salton Sea reached its highest point around 1731.

“But it had to have started drying up by 1732 or 33,” Rockwell said.

Based on an approximate rate of evaporation, that would have made it possible to completely dry out by the time Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition passed through the area in 1774 and reported that the lakebed had no water in it.

The Salton Sea could produce the world’s greenest lithium, if new extraction technologies work

Katie Brigham – Wednesday – CNBC

About 40 miles north of the California-Mexico border lies the shrinking, landlocked lake known as the Salton Sea. Though the lake was once the epicenter of a thriving resort community, water contamination and decades of drought have contributed to a collapse of its once-vibrant ecosystem and given rise to ghost towns.

The Salton Sea could produce the world’s greenest lithium, if new extraction technologies work

But amid this environmental disaster, the California Energy Commission estimates that there’s enough lithium here to meet all of the United States’ projected future demand and 40% of the world’s demand. That’s big news for the booming electric-vehicle industry, as lithium is the common denominator across all types of EV batteries.

Traditionally, lithium extraction involves either open-pit mining or evaporation ponds, which work by pumping lithium-containing brine to the surface and waiting for the water to dry up. Both of these methods have huge land footprints, are often very water intensive and can create a lot of contamination and waste.

But at the Salton Sea, three companies are developing chemical processes to extract lithium in a much cleaner way, taking advantage of the Salton Sea’s rich geothermal resources. Near the lake, there are already 11 operating geothermal power plants, 10 of which are owned by Berkshire Hathaway’s renewable energy division, BHE Renewables.

“We are already pumping 50,000 gallons of brine per minute across all of our 10 geothermal facilities to the surface,” said Alicia Knapp, president and CEO of BHE Renewables, “and we’re using the steam from that brine to generate clean energy. So we’re really halfway there in that we’ve got the lithium right here in our hands.”

Two other companies, EnergySource and Controlled Thermal Resources, or CTR, are also developing joint geothermal-lithium facilities at the Salton Sea, and General Motors has already committed to source lithium from CTR.

This new industry could be a major economic boon to the region, where the majority Mexican-American community faces high rates of unemployment and poverty and suffers health impacts from the toxic dust that blows off the Salton Sea’s drying lake bed.

“We’re cautiously excited in regards to the Lithium Valley,” said Maria Nava-Froelich, the mayor pro tem of Calipatria, California, the city of about 6,000 where the geothermal power plants are located. “We see it as a game changer here for Imperial County.”

Nava-Froelich hopes the industry will bring much-needed jobs and development to the region, helping to revitalize communities that have seen an exodus of young people seeking opportunities elsewhere. And environmentalists hope that the influx of attention and money will hasten California’s efforts to restore the environment in and around the Salton Sea.

If ever there were a time to bet on domestic mineral projects, it might be now. At the end of March, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to boost production of EV battery minerals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese.

But extracting lithium from geothermal brines has never been done before at scale, so it remains to be seen whether the electric-vehicle industry, the local community and/or the environment will actually benefit.

Lithium Valley

This isn’t the first time there’s been interest in lithium recovery at the Salton Sea. Hyped start-up Simbol Materials developed a demonstration plant, but the company ceased operations in 2015 after a failed acquisition attempt by Tesla and never developed a commercial-scale facility.

Since then, demand for lithium has shot up and, after falling sharply in 2018, prices are surging once again, incentivizing projects that might not have been economical before. If the current trio of companies can prove their technology works, they stand to make a lot of money from the hundreds of thousands of tons of lithium in the area.

“The Salton Sea field, fully developed, could well serve over 600,000 tons a year, when the world production is less than 400 [thousand] now,” said Rod Colwell, CEO of CTR.

Unlike Berkshire Hathaway and EnergySource, CTR doesn’t have any geothermal power plants in the region, so it’s building a joint geothermal and lithium recovery facility all at once. Currently, the company is constructing a demonstration plant and plans to open its first full-scale facility by the beginning of 2024, providing 20,000 tons of lithium to GM.

Colwell estimates that CTR’s first plant will cost just shy of $1 billion, a steeper price per ton of lithium than many traditional lithium recovery projects. But all three companies expect that price to drop as the technology develops further.

CTR is using ion-exchange technology, which it developed in partnership with Bay Area-based Lilac Solutions, to recover lithium. In this method, geothermal brine flows through tanks filled with ceramic beads, which absorb lithium from the brine. When the beads are saturated, the lithium is flushed out with hydrochloric acid, and lithium chloride remains. This is an intermediary product that CTR plans to refine on-site, yielding lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide, a powder that’s ready to be processed and transformed into precursor chemicals and then manufactured into battery cells.

Berkshire Hathaway is also using ion-exchange technology, though the company hasn’t revealed as many specifics as CTR about how it will work.

EnergySource has developed technology known as Integrated Lithium Adsorption Desorption, or ILiAD, and it’s jumping straight into building a full-scale facility, which it expects to be operational by 2024.

What we see in terms of production costs is that geothermal brine should be around the first quartile in terms of market competitiveness,” said Derek Benson, CEO of EnergySource.

Notably, all three companies plan to refine the lithium on-site, a process that normally takes place overseas. But the companies aren’t equipped to handle additional steps, such as chemical processing and battery cell manufacturing, which still primarily take place in Asia.

“The rest of the supply chain hopefully in the coming years will also be developed in the U.S.,” said Knapp, “so that we’re able to go straight from lithium and other minerals in the ground to batteries that we’re using to run our infrastructure.”

EV battery maker Italvolt recently announced plans to launch a new company, Statevolt, with the intent to build a $4 billion gigafactory in Imperial Valley that would produce enough lithium-ion batteries for 650,000 electric vehicles per year. Statevolt signed a letter of intent to source lithium and geothermal power from CTR, but did not respond to CNBC’s inquiry about whether it will do chemical processing on-site.

The Salton Sea: An introduction to an evolving system and the role of science

Authors

Kurt A. Schwabe , UC Riverside

Publication Information

California Agriculture 76(1):4-7. https://doi.org/10.3733/ca.2022a0006

Published online April 22, 2022

Summary

In this special issue, California Agriculture presents review articles that highlight what research to date can say about the changing Salton Sea ecosystem and its environmental and human health–related impacts, and identify areas in which further scientific research is needed to better inform policy.

Full text

The Salton Sea, located in Southern California, is a saline terminal lake that has had many identities over the past century or so. Since its reincarnation in 1905 due to lower Colorado River flooding that partially refilled the Salton Sink, it has been California’s largest lake by surface area, covering approximately 350 square miles (Water Education Foundation 2001). In the second half of the 20th century, it was referred to as one of the most productive fisheries in the world, drawing more than 1.5 million annual visitors in the 1960s — more than visited Yosemite National Park at the time — the majority of whom were there for fishing (Cohn 2000Harris et al. 1969). Throughout the 20th century, with a habitat that supported over 400 species of migratory and resident birds and served as an important stopover along the Pacific Flyway, the Sea warranted recognition as one of the premier bird watching locations in the United States, if not the world (CNRA 2006Cowan 2014Schwabe et al. 2008).

While the Salton Sea was a relatively stable ecosystem for most of the 20th century, recent agricultural-to-urban water transfers have caused significant impacts on the region’s ecology, including the expected loss of all fish and the fish-eating birds that are reliant on them. Photo: California DWR.

Yet with nearly 90% of its inflow comprised of agricultural drainage waters from the approximately 500,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), and exposure to an extremely arid climate that results in excessive evaporation (∼ 1.3 million acre-feet annually), the Sea’s natural attractions have faded as the lake has become more polluted and nearly twice as saline as the ocean (Fogel and Schwabe 2021Lyons and Hung 2021). Such an outcome was not unexpected given that while the Sea has played many roles in the past, its most well-known if not primary role from a management and water rights perspective has been as a “reservoir for irrigation drainage” (Littleworth and Garner 2017, p. 256).

Agricultural fields near the Salton Sea. Nearly 90% of the Sea’s water comes from irrigation runoff from the agricultural lands in the Imperial Valley. Photo: EcoFlight.

With the passage of the 2002 Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) — a local-state-federal agreement that was developed to wean California from regularly appropriating Colorado River surplus flows above the state’s authorized 4.4 million acre-feet and that sanctioned the transfer of water from IID to entities outside of the region beginning in 2003 — the volume and surface area of the Salton Sea has declined. And while this decline won’t likely threaten the Sea’s ranking as California’s largest lake, it has exacerbated the rate of salinization of the Sea (Ajami 2021) and reduced the prevalence of fish and fish-eating birds (Nye et al. 2021). In addition, it has created a new issue that the Sea may become known for — as a contributor to air pollution (Maheshwari et al. 2021). As the Sea recedes, shoreline that was previously submerged becomes exposed and dries. This “playa” has been identified as a source of airborne particles that may worsen regional air quality and exacerbate respiratory illness and asthma rates that are already far above state averages (Bahreini et al. 2021Parajuli and Zender 2018). Furthermore, as it continues to decay and decline, the Sea itself may become a more significant source of airborne toxins that negatively impact human health (Biddle et al. 2022 and Freund and Maltz et al. 2022, this issue).

Another role that has the potential to define the Salton Sea for years to come is as an important region for renewable energy development, specifically as a site for geothermal energy production and lithium extraction for use in batteries. Geothermal energy has been produced in the Salton Sea region for over four decades (McKibben et al. 2021), and the rise in worldwide lithium demand for supplying electric vehicle batteries coupled with the complementary nature of lithium extraction from existing geothermal energy production processes may provide a boon to the expansion of both industries around the Salton Sea. Such expansion is not surprising given that the Salton Sea region has the largest undeveloped reserves of geothermal energy and lithium in the world (McKibben et al. 2021), with possible revenues from the lithium deposits in the Imperial Valley part of the region alone of nearly $860 million annually (California Energy Commission 2020). Recent matched investments by CalEnergy (∼$6 million), a local producer of geothermal energy, and the California Energy Commission (∼$6 million) for a lithium extraction pilot project is likely a hint of the possibilities ahead. Of course, what is unknown is how the expansion of these industries can, or will, contribute to the region in terms of development, income and employment — a region characterized by some of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in the state — and impact environmental quality.

In response to these possibilities, along with prior commitments to mitigate expected environmental problems arising from the QSA, local, state and federal governments are investing significant resources into the Salton Sea. Since 2014, California has set aside nearly $345 million for restoration and environmental mitigation-related activities surrounding the Salton Sea, while the federal government has earmarked another $1.4 million (Fogel and Schwabe 2021SSA 2022). These funds include such appropriations as nearly $80 million from the 2014 passage of California’s Proposition 1 bond, $200 million from passage of Proposition 68 in 2018, $7.5 million in a 2017 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support regional conservation partnerships, $30 million in support for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for water resources development passed in 2016, and a $14 million award in 2016 by the California Wildlife Conservation Board for sustaining migrating birds and the fish they rely on through wetland habitat restoration.

What the above discussion illustrates is how complex and dynamic the Salton Sea situation is, how management (or mismanagement) of the Sea for one particular role or purpose inevitably has impacts on its other possible roles and opportunities — with real consequences on human and environmental health — and how a significant amount of money has been appropriated for investing in developing plans to address the environmental and human health concerns surrounding the Salton Sea. Because of the delayed response in developing and implementing actual mitigation plans to counter the expected environmental and health-related consequences associated with the QSA until more recently, there has been a common refrain to cease with the studies and move forward with shovel-ready mitigation projects (Byrant 2021).

Unfortunately, and as emphasized in Fogel and Schwabe (2021), the science and data behind many of the state’s plans are either outdated or incomplete. As such, the returns on those significant investments are questionable, as are the outcomes. A more prudent approach than treating investments in research and investments in shovel-ready projects as mutually exclusive is to view the investments in research as a necessary and critical complement to developing efficient, sustainable and informed projects that are based on the best available science and to continue to monitor the effectiveness of such projects so they do provide justifiable and real returns to society in the form of improved human and environmental health.

Previous riverine inputs into the Salton Sea that have since dried out. Without informed and timely strategies to address the decline in the Salton Sea, environmental and human health-related catastrophes will grow. Photo: Caroline Hung.

In an effort to contribute to a better understanding of some of the critical questions surrounding the Salton Sea and the “state of the science,” this issue includes three papers that span issues associated with ecology/hydrology, the microbiome, and air quality and health. In the first paper, titled “Ecological Transitions at the Salton Sea: Past, Present and Future”, (Bradley et al. 2022), the authors provide a brief history of the formation of the Salton Sea, highlighting the fact that it is not a temporary fixture in Southern California but has been an integral part of the region for thousands of years. Yet, while the Sea was a relatively stable ecosystem for most of the 20th century, recent agricultural-to-urban water transfers have caused significant impacts on the ecology of the Sea, including the expected loss of all fish and the fish-eating birds that are reliant on them. And whereas research in the 1990s and early 2000s provided evidence and predictions describing much of what is being observed, the ecology of the system has changed significantly since that time, such that our understanding of the consequences of continued changes in flows into the Sea on the ecology and chemistry of the Sea is very limited. Without further research into the evolving chemistry and ecology of the Sea, and a better understanding of the hydrology of the region, particularly with respect to the surface water-groundwater interactions, the effectiveness of any proposed Salton Sea management plan is speculative at best with potentially significant negative outcomes.

Bombay Beach Wetland

Bombay Beach Wetland

How an emerging wetland at the Salton Sea offers new hope for migratory birds and local communities.

The Salton Sea’s waterline continues to rapidly recede, leaving behind exposed playa that exacerbates respiratory diseases and other issues for nearby communities.

Unexpectedly, however, the shoreline’s recession has created an opportunity for nature to take its course, evident by the presence of newly emerging wetlands around the Salton Sea. There are roughly 6,000 acres of newly formed wetlands that have emerged around the Salton Sea. They are a product of agricultural outflows or from natural seeps from springs. In June of 2020, Audubon California released a report titled “Identifying Existing Areas for Habitat Protection/Enhancement and Dust Suppression Projects on the Salton Sea Exposed Playa” that assesses the amount and distribution of these wetlands.

Audubon California has received a grant from the United States Bureau of Reclamation that will fund project design, biological surveys, and community engagement for both dust suppression and the expansion, stabilization, restoration, and enhancement of 250 acres of these emerging wetlands near the town of Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea. These incidental wetlands can serve a dual purpose in creating vital habitat for migrating birds and mitigating the dust that endangers the respiratory health of the 650,000 people who live near the Salton Sea.

Site Details

The existing Bombay Beach Wetland is located on the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea, about 3 miles east of the Bombay Beach community. It consists of a wetland and surrounding vegetation that has developed where several prominent washes converge and groundwater discharges. There are existing saline wetlands and brackish pond habitats for species including the Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, American Avocet, Northern Pintail, and possibly the Desert Pupfish.

The existing wetland will remain small, however, without restoration and stabilization. This is because the higher quality habitat area upslope is being increasingly dominated by a monoculture of the invasive Tamarisk plant. The wildlife species, however, are already using the area, despite the lack of formal restoration or management, indicating that there is an opportunity to enhance the area.

The Salton Sea as a whole is important for more than 300 species of resident and migratory birds. Additionally, where there is not wetland or vegetated habitats, there is bare playa that is responsible for dust pollution to the surrounding communities. It is imperative that these emerging wetlands at the Salton Sea be stabilized to ensure sufficient habitat along the Pacific Flyway and to mitigate dust pollution

Salton Sea Bombay
Map image showing the proposed project location of the Bombay Beach Wetland.

Project Goals

The Bombay Beach Wetlands project aims to stabilize and enhance various emergent and saline wetlands and playa habitats, protect human health by optimizing water use to promote dust suppression in nearby playas, and provide opportunities for recreational public access.

Wetland preservation and enhancement will be done by protecting existing vegetation, wetland, and aquatic habitat areas from damaging stormwater inflows with the reinforcement of shoreline berms that protect the area.

The reinforcement of berms, complemented by water-use optimization infrastructure, will allow for water to have a maximum environmental beneficial use. This project aims to optimize water use to irrigate vegetation around the adjacent playa for dust control, to maintain the salinity in wetland areas for optimal species productivity, and to enhance and promote new habitat in the wetland.

This project also aims to include outdoor recreation opportunities for the community and is receptive to public feedback on potential project design alternatives and public access ideas. We hope to make this emergent wetland an area that the public can experience, the birds can live in, and an area that can help mitigate public health issues.

Progress Updates

The Bombay Beach Wetland Project is in the first phase, which is expected to take two years, which includes habitat and dust control project design, scientific monitoring and data collection, and community engagement in planning design. Following successful completion of this planning phase, groundbreaking on construction would start in 2023.

Salton Sea Management Program Update

Management Program Updates Salton Sea
Management Program Updates Salton Sea

April 8, 2022

REMINDER: Meeting set for Monday on

Water Importation Feasibility Study Screening Report

The Independent Review Panel will present the results of its first review of concepts for water importation that were submitted as part of the State’s 2017 RFI and the Panel’s 2021 RFI. The Screening Report identifies which concepts provided sufficient information to be evaluated and involved importation methods. The Zoom meeting will be hosted by the Independent Review Panel support team on behalf of the Panel. Professor Haddad will also provide an update and overview of the entire Panel process. Spanish interpretation will be provided.
Monday, April 11, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 
Meeting ID: 961 2785 5602
Password: 827894
Visit the University of California Santa Cruz’s Institute for Social Transformation website to view the Salton Sea Independent Review Panel Screening Report:

REMINDER: 2022 Salton Sea Management Program Annual Report Community Workshop Set for Tuesday, April 12

Recently, the Salton Sea Management Program team released its 2022 Annual Report and is inviting community members and all interested parties to a virtual community meeting on Tuesday, April 12 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. The team will provide an in-depth presentation of the 2022 Annual Report and welcome any questions that arise from this presentation. The workshop will be hosted in English with Spanish interpretation.
Tuesday, April 12, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Teleconference Dial in: 888-278-0296  | Access Code: 596019
The SSMP Annual Report is available for review in both English and Spanish at SaltonSea.ca.gov.

State Water Resources Control Board Annual Workshop on the Status of Phase-1 of the Salton Sea Management Program Set for April 20

The State Water Board will hold a hybrid public workshop, in-person at the Cal EPA building in Sacramento and virtually, to receive oral and written comments on the status of the Salton Sea Management Program, including a report from the California Natural Resources Agency pursuant to Water Board Order WR 2017-0134.
A draft agenda is under development and will be posted on the Board’s Salton Sea
website prior to the workshop. The draft agenda will also be released via the Salton Sea
email subscription service. To receive notifications about Salton Sea program activities
by the State Water Board and the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Board, please
subscribe to the email service here:
https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/email_subscriptions/reg7_subscribe.html.
Written comments are due by 12:00 p.m. on April 14, 2022.Written comments are submitted to commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line as “Comment Letter: Salton Sea“
To provide verbal comments during the workshop, you need to fill out a virtual speaker card at this link, and a Zoom link and password will be sent to you.
For additional information and updates please visit: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/salton_sea