Senator Padilla Introduces Legislation To Create Salton Sea Conservancy

SACRAMENTO – Senator Steve Padilla (D-San Diego) today introduced Senate Bill 583, creating the Salton Sea Conservancy, unifying the state’s efforts to accomplish necessary and overdue preservation projects, protecting residents’ health, and fostering ecological recovery in the area.

With a surface area of 343 square miles, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and was once a freshwater lake and a thriving tourism destination. Evaporation, exacerbated by climate change, along with agricultural runoff, has exposed toxins in the lakebed and created a perfect environment for dangerous algae blooms and bacteria to thrive. Some experts estimate the sea will lose more than half its volume by 2030, creating close to a 3-foot decline in the water level. As the sea shrinks, the lakebed containing elements such as arsenic and selenium becomes exposed, and the dust particles that then become airborne, spread the toxins throughout the region.

Salton Sea

The exposure has had an overwhelming impact on the surrounding communities, predominantly composed of Latino agricultural workers. Hospitalization rates for children with asthma in the area are double the state average and residents have been especially affected by the rotten-egg odor from hydrogen sulfide overrunning the sea’s oxygen-deprived water. Imperial County, where the Sea is located, now suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country.

There have been numerous efforts by environmental justice groups to mitigate the negative health effects affecting communities. Similarly, environmental groups have sought aid from state and federal sources to preserve the environment correct the toxic health inequities present. Previous attempts to restore the Salton Sea have stalled despite numerous legislative efforts.

SB 583 would create the Salton Sea Conservancy within the Natural Resources Agency, which would then manage all of the conservation projects taking place in the Salton Sea Region. Conservancies have the ability to foster trust with region they serve. Creating the Salton Sea Conservancy would provide the surrounding community a direct link to a central entity, giving them further insight into restoration efforts.

“This is an environmental crisis that not only impacts the ecology of the region, but the people as well. Communities near the Salton Sea are at breaking point,” said Senator Padilla. “By unifying all of the conservation projects surrounding the Sea, we can streamline .efforts and bring about necessary change faster.”

“We are excited to have a new partner in Senator Padilla, reinforcing our Salton Sea restoration efforts,” said Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, joint author on the legislation. “A Salton Sea Conservancy creates a necessary avenue to finance operation and maintenance of restoration projects and ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for our sea and surrounding communities.”

“The creation of a conservancy at the Salton Sea to oversee the acquisition and management of land, create infrastructure and act as a responsible steward of wildlife habitat areas is long overdue,” said Frank Ruiz, director of the Salton Sea Program for Audubon California, a member of the Salton Sea Partnership. “As many different entities come together to slow the Sea’s decline, coordination and communication are essential, and we thank Sen. Padilla for working to further that.”

Op-ed: Why California controls the fate of the Colorado River

Hosted by Chery Glaser 

Opinion column by Joe Mathews: 

Why do we still call it the Colorado?



Sure, the river begins in the Colorado Rockies. But in law and practice, the waterway making headlines is clearly the California River. And the first provision of any deal to save the river should rename it accordingly.

This condition wouldn’t be about Golden State pride. Instead, a name change would more accurately reflect the imperial role California plays in the movement of water, people, and power in the American West.

Right now, the Grand Canyon-sized divide over how to reduce the amount of water drawn from the rapidly diminishing river is being portrayed as a dispute between states. On one side, six states that rely on California-nee-Colorado water — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — have come together to demand cuts in water use that would fall heaviest on California.

In response, California water officials have produced a plan emphasizing how our state’s rights to the water are more senior than those of our Southwest neighbors. Their newly released plan would cut less from California’s take, and more from Arizona and Nevada. In the Wild West of Water, this argument — We stole it first! We stole it fair and square! — is a strong legal position.

But such descriptions of the fight fail to capture the true dynamics of the situation — that California is less a state than an empire, and the six states challenging it over water are California colonies. California is by far the richest and most dynamic area in this half of North America. California has more residents and a bigger economy than all the other western states of the U.S. put together.

In recent generations, California, like other great empires through history, has grown so much that it has exported people, money, and culture to nearby territories. California’s investment has helped make the intermountain West the nation’s fastest-growing region

Many of the greater West residents are native Californians, or immigrants who came through the Golden State. Nevada is the most Californian state;  with nearly as many California natives (20%) as Nevada natives (25%), and more than 90% of its population living within 50 miles of the California border. But Californians have also provided sizable percentages of new residents to Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, where one out of every 10 residents was born here.

Moving to the colonies is so common that the Orange County Register business columnist Jonathan Lansner often builds spreadsheets for his readers examining which of these colonies are doing best. (His latest advice? “Move to Colorado.”)

Are these transplanted Californians, and other residents of the California colonies, grateful for our largesse? Of course not. Colonists don’t freely thank their emperors, which is why every so often, the LA Times or New York Times interviews some real estate agent in Phoenix or Las Vegas or Denver, who whines about how the California ex-pats are driving up housing prices.


Inside the abandoned yacht club of the Salton Sea

Inside the abandoned yacht club of the Salton Sea

If the sun hits it just right, it looks like the ocean. Pelicans fly overhead, gently cawing and circling the horizon. The skies are a flat, dull blue. But once you walk along its spectral shoreline and feel the grit of translucent fish bones beneath your feet, you realize this cancerous body of water is anything but ordinary.

Spanning about 343 square miles and referred to as “an environmental catastrophe” by water experts, the Salton Sea is in a perpetual state of decay due to the 4 million tons of salt from agricultural runoff that flow into it each year. It’s a “terminal sea,” meaning that it has no outflow, and it has become a noxious brew that’s caused mass bird and fish die-offs over the years.

But before its fabled toxicity took hold, the Salton Sea was once a popular resort destination. It’s an unlikely icon, one that’s been featured in hundreds of films over the decades. Growing up in the confines of the suburban, sun-scorched Coachella Valley, I was always drawn to its dying waters.


In 2009, when I finally got to join my father on one of his photography trips to the area, one eerie landmark beckoned to us from a distance: an eviscerated, ghostly clubhouse near the shore. We captured its alluring decay with plastic Polaroid cameras, my eye drawn specifically to its rotting, graffitied interior. We continued through the empty building, navigating a maelstrom of trash, debris and caution tape, careful to avoid loose boards and nails. Apocryphal messages were scribbled on the walls and spray-painted inside dark closets. I distinctly remember walking past “Dead birds everywhere” and taking a photo of the dripping, blackened words “You’ll be the last one untied!!!”


Salton Sea dust triggers lung inflammation

UC Riverside study has health implications for people living around California’s largest lake.

The Salton Sea, the body of water in Southern California’s Coachella Valley and Imperial Valley, is shrinking over time as the planet warms and exposing more lakebed and new sources of dust in the process. High levels of dust already plague the region, a situation likely to worsen as the sea continues to shrink due to climate change.

Not surprisingly, the communities surrounding the Salton Sea have high rates of childhood asthma (20–22.4%) — much higher than the California average of 14.5%.

A University of California, Riverside, mouse study, led by Dr. David Lo, a distinguished professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine, has found that dust collected at sites near the Salton Sea triggered lung neutrophil inflammation in mice. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cells that help fight infection.

Exposed lakebed has been linked to higher levels of dust at the Salton Sea. The dust in the Salton Sea Basin is estimated to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2030. (UCR/Stan Lim)

“We now have an important direct demonstration that chronic exposures to Salton Sea dust may have a role in the asthma in residents closest to the Salton Sea,” said Lo, who directs the Bridging Regional Ecology, Aerosolized Toxins, & Health Effects, or BREATHE, Center. Housed in the UC Riverside medical school, the center addresses critical issues in air quality and health.

“What residents near the sea are breathing is dissolved material from the sea, with microbial components that can promote inflammation,” Lo said. “As the sea continues to dry up and expose more dust-producing lakebed, it could increase concern for the residents, especially as climate change drives chronic drought in the region.”

Lo explained that dust can cause several pulmonary diseases. In the Salton Sea, contaminants such as pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and microbial toxins may be enriched in the dust. To examine the potentially harmful effects of this dust, the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, used an environmental exposure chamber at UC Riverside.



A lifeline for the Salton Sea

Local, state officials welcome federal funds for environmental projects

By Ian James

A DRY PORTION of the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. Photographs by Marcio Jose Sanchez Associated Press

The Biden administration has announced a plan to provide $250 million to accelerate environmental projects around the shrinking Salton Sea, a major commitment intended to help revitalize the lake’s ecosystems and control hazardous dust in a deal that clears the way for California to take less water from the drought-ravaged Colorado River.

Leaders of the Imperial Irrigation District, which uses the single largest share of the Colorado River to supply farms in the Imperial Valley, had called for federal money to support the state’s Salton Sea program as a key condition for participating in water cutbacks. Some of the district’s leaders praised the funding commitment from the Interior Department and the Bureau of Reclamation, calling it a historic step toward addressing the windblown dust and deteriorating habitats that have plagued California’s largest lake.

“This checks the box big time,” said J.B. Hamby, an Imperial Irrigation District board member. “It’s a really big deal, and nothing like this has really ever happened before.”

This year, federal officials demanded large-scale water cutbacks throughout the Southwest to try to prevent the Colorado River’s reservoirs from dropping to dangerously low levels. Four major California water districts have proposed reducing water use by up to 400,000 acre-feet per year for the next four years, about 9% of the state’s total water allotment.




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:


Salton Sea 

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: 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:

Zoom Link:

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


California officials must stop squabbling and face the Salton Sea crisis with clear plans

Chuck Parker – Special to The Desert Sun

Forty million people living in Southern California are faced with a deadly combination of drought, warming temperatures, a drying Salton Sea and criminally negligent policies. Officials who have the power and the responsibility to protect our water supply refuse to admit that the Colorado River can no longer supply the amount of water that we have become accustomed to. They have chosen to retreat into their corners and squabble about who should make the necessary sacrifices to save Lake Mead and Lake Powell from reaching dead pool where no one will get any water from the river.

California officials, including Imperial Irrigation District (IID) are withholding their cooperation to save the Colorado River, by saying that cutbacks will hurt their efforts to control the dust that comes from the Salton Sea’s dry lakebed. They are demanding federal funding for these efforts as a condition for agreeing to cutbacks in water use. This is an attempt at blackmail based on a lie. The only plans that the Salton Sea Management Plan has to control dust are by furrowing the bone-dry lakebed and spreading hay bales. These plans will not work and are a token effort at best. It is the sale of water by IID to urban areas, beginning in 2003, which has caused the Salton Sea to dry up and created the dust storms that are making people sick.

Salton Sea
If you don’t believe me, just research dry Lake Owens. Stripped of all of its water by Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District 100 years ago, Lake Owens suffered from the worst air pollution in the country, decades of lawsuits and billions of dollars spent on dust control projects which left the lakebed looking like a vast parking lot. The Salton Sea is three times the size of Lake Owens and closer to large population centers. If we allow the Salton Sea Management Plan to follow the Lake Owens model, it will cost $9 billion plus maintenance, and create a huge public health disaster.
Officials, like our Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz, who claim they are worried about the people who are getting sick, need to get behind the only plan that can completely eliminate the threat of toxic dust storms – importing ocean water. In this way, we can decouple the Salton Sea from the Colorado River and contribute to solving the water crisis that nature is presenting us. Once the sea is refilled, we could begin to desalinate the seawater to create a new supply of fresh water to relieve the drought. California and Arizona and the other Basin states and Mexico have to work together to protect our water supply.

Feds demand Colorado River water cutbacks



Federal officials are warning California and other states that use Colorado River water to sharply reduce diversions or the government will act unilaterally. California would take the biggest hit.


Feds demand Colorado River water cutbacks

One must wade through a thicket of bureaucratic jargon to find it, but on Friday federal officials issued what appears to be a serious warning to California and other states that use water from the highly stressed Colorado River:

If they cannot agree on sharp reductions in diversions of the Colorado’s water, the feds will impose them unilaterally.

It’s the latest wrinkle in decades of interstate squabbling over the river, which has become more heated as the river’s flows continue to decline and conditions in its two major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, reach the crisis stage.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation wants California, Arizona and Nevada to reduce diversions by at least 2 million acre-feet a year and as much as 4 million, but negotiations have been fruitless. California, which takes the most water from the river, by far, has offered just a 400,000 acre-foot reduction. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons.

With talks stalemated, the bureau said it will begin planning for unilateral action “to address the serious operational realities facing the system…” due to “the likelihood of continued low-runoff conditions across the (Colorado River) basin.” It would implement cuts by reducing releases from the two reservoirs.

“The Interior Department continues to pursue a collaborative and consensus-based approach to addressing the drought crisis afflicting the West. At the same time, we are committed to taking prompt and decisive action necessary to protect the Colorado River system and all those who depend on it,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

The Bureau of Reclamation is telling the states “that this is kind of their last opportunity for consensus-building, for voluntary action,” Jaime Garcia, a water fellow at the University of Colorado Law School’s Getches-Wilkinson Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

“The fundamental issue is, whatever solution people come up with is going to hurt,” Garcia said. “The river is overallocated. It’s drying up. And we have to find a way to sort of spread out the pain evenly.”

Because California is the largest user of Colorado River water, cutbacks — either voluntary or imposed — would have their greatest impact on the state. However, while the Colorado is a major source of water for Southern California’s more than 20 million residents, the region has other sources for municipal users.

Rather, about two-thirds of the Colorado’s water diverted into California goes to farming, particularly the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial County. The district takes more water from the river, at least 2.5 million acre-feet a year, than Nevada and Arizona combined. Therefore, if there are major cutbacks, as the feds demand, the Imperial Irrigation District would have to give up the most.

Imperial gets the most because it was the first entity to tap the Colorado more than a century ago, thus establishing its senior water rights. The Imperial Dam and All-American Canal allow the Imperial Valley to have a 12-month growing season, making it a major producer of winter produce as well as a source of alfalfa to feed cattle and milk cows.

The Interior Department has $4 billion from the newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act to compensate those who would lose water by flow reductions. But the money and the latest warning may not produce agreement among the affected states.

If the Bureau of Reclamation acts unilaterally to reduce diversions, it will likely result in high-stakes litigation that tests Imperial district’s water rights. In a sense what’s happening along the Colorado could be a forerunner of legal showdowns over water rights in other regions of the state, if drought conditions continue.


Feds to Colorado River states: reduce water usage, or we will do it for you

The Interior Department outlined a path for unilateral cuts last week, upping the pressure on western states. source:


In theory, the federal government can unilaterally cut water deliveries from the Colorado River’s two main reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which release more than 2 trillion gallons of water to farms and cities across the Southwest each year. In reality, this has never happened: Previous cuts have always been negotiated between the federal government and the seven states that use the river.

David McNew / Getty Images

Late last week, however, the federal government sent its strongest signal yet that it is willing to single-handedly impose water cuts on the Colorado for the first time in history, as the U.S. West stares down the consequences of a climate-change-fueled megadrought that has parched the river.

The Department of the Interior, the federal agency that manages water in the Colorado River basinannounced on Friday that it would look into changing the rules for how it operates Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are located in southern Utah and southern Nevada, respectively. This would pave the way for the department to impose sharp cuts on major water users in Arizona, Nevada, California, and Mexico, which receives water pursuant to a 1944 treaty.


In effect, the letter is a formal warning to the river states, telling them that if they fail to make the major cuts necessary to prevent the reservoirs from bottoming out, the feds won’t hesitate to unilaterally cut their water deliveries to do so.

The Interior Department said in its Friday letter that it would conduct an environmental review before changing the rules to impose new cuts on the states. This will give states one more chance to come up with their own voluntary reductions before the government enacts its own. According to John Fleck, a professor of water policy at the University of New Mexico, the upshot of all this is that unprecedented water reductions are all but guaranteed next year.

“Whether those cuts are imposed by a government action, or voluntary action by the states, or the fact that the reservoirs are fucking empty, they will happen,” he told Grist.

The new review comes after months of tense negotiations between the federal government and the seven basin states: California, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. Earlier this year, as water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead fell to historic lows, officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation ordered states to reduce their water consumption. The Bureau wanted a total reduction of between 2 and 4 million acre-feet — roughly a third of all water usage on the river.

Full Article


Can the Salton Sea be saved?

By Zoya Teirstein, Grist

Climate change, megadrought and agricultural needs have transformed the ‘jewel in the Californian desert’ into a toxic place.

This story was originally published at Grist and is republished here by permission.

In the spring of 1905, the Colorado River, bursting with seasonal rain, topped an irrigation canal and flooded the site of a dried lake bed in Southern California. The flooding, which continued for two years before engineers sealed up the busted channel, created an unexpected gem in the middle of the arid California landscape: the Salton Sea. In the decades that followed, vacationers, water skiers, and speed boat enthusiasts flocked to the body of water. The Beach Boys and the Marx Brothers docked their boats at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, which opened in 1959. At the time, it seemed like the Salton Sea, and the vibrant communities that had sprung up around it, would be there for centuries to come.

But the sea’s heyday was short-lived. Cut off from the life source that created it — the Colorado River — and sustained mainly by limited agricultural runoff from nearby farms, the landlocked waterbody began to evaporate. The water that remained became increasingly salty and toxic. Tourism dried up. The scent of rotten eggs, from high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the sea, filled the air. Fish died in droves from lack of oxygen, their bones washing up on the beach like sand.

Oxygen-starved tilapia float in a shallow Salton Sea bay near Niland, California AP Photo / Gregory Bull

By the 1980s, the rich, white vacationers had fled. Today, the community is made up of predominantly Latino agricultural workers who labor in nearby fields in Imperial County, among the poorest counties in California, and Indigenous tribes that have called the region home for millennia. They suffer from a unique cocktail of health threats that stem from the Salton Sea.

The waterbody is fed by about 50 agricultural channels, carrying limited amounts of water infused with pesticides, nitrogen, fertilizers, and other agricultural byproducts. As a result, the briny lake’s sediment is laced with toxins like lead, chromium, and DDT. Climate change and the prolonged megadrought gripping the Western United States are only compounding these problems. The Salton Sea is projected to lose three quarters of its volume by the end of this decade; declining water levels could expose an additional 100,000 acres of lake bottom. The sea’s surface has already shrunk roughly 38 square miles since 2003.

As the sea dries and more shoreline is exposed, the strong winds that plague this part of California kick up chemical-laced dust and blow it into nearby communities, where roughly 650,000 people live. Residents complain of headaches, nosebleeds, asthma, and other health problems.

“It’s a huge environmental justice issue,” Jenny Binstock, a senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club, told Grist. “It leads to increased asthma attacks, bronchitis, lung disease.” Hospitalization rates for children with asthma in facilities near the sea are nearly double the state average.

Beyond dust, Ryan Sinclair, an environmental microbiologist at the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California, is concerned about bioaerosols — tiny airborne particles that come from plants and animals — that can develop from algae or bacteria in the sea’s shallow, tepid waters.