Legislators, Experts Warn Of Major Environmental And Health Problems If Salton Sea Plan Is Delayed

May 8, 2018

The Salton Sea is shrinking, exposing dry lake-bed and creating toxic dust clouds.
Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR

The State Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife  held a public hearing Tuesday, May 8th, on the plan to rehabilitate the shrinking Salton Sea in Imperial County.

The Salton Sea has been shrinking rapidly in 2018, after most of the water it used to get from agricultural run-off was directed to other parts in the state last year. And less water means more exposed lake-bed, which comes with a number of problems.

It’s exposing the communities around it to toxic dust, which has created an asthma crisis in the area. It’s also putting migratory birds who use the man-made lake at risk, as the water becomes saltier and fish die off.

That’s what led the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife to hold a three-hour public hearing called “Ensuring Successful Implementation of the Salton Sea Management Plan.

That’s the 10-year plan by the California Natural Resources Agency to stop the sea from becoming an environmental and public health disaster that could spread to the rest of Southern California.

It includes creating wetland areas for migratory birds and plowing exposed lake-bed to mitigate the toxic dust.

But Ben Hueso, a state senator from Imperial County, said during the hearing that the 10-year plan alone won’t save the sea.

“It will not be enough. It will be a fraction of the solution," Hueso said. "This is one of the biggest issues affecting all of Southern California. It’s going to affect our water supply, it’s going to affect our environment, quality of life. And it’s a solvable problem.”

Right now, the state hasn’t secured the nearly 400-million dollars in funds the plan requires.

A panorama of the Salton Sea's shoreline.
Credit Akos Kokai / Flickr

Mike Lynes is the Director of Public Policy for the California Audubon, which advocates for bird and wildlife conservation. He represented the organization at the committee hearing.

Lynes says the Salton Sea must be taken care of because it’s an important part of the Pacific Flyway, which is the path migratory birds take from Alaska to Argentina.

Loss of wetland habitat in California has already drastically reduced the number of birds that pass through the state, from its height of about 40 million.

“Now, we estimate there may be 6 to 8 million that go through California,” Lynes says.

Lynes says he appreciates that the committee held a hearing on the Salton Sea – but he’s also frustrated by what he sees as a lack of attention from Sacramento.

“They’ve showed that we still don’t have specific timelines, we don’t have real commitments to meet those goals. And all those promises won’t mean anything unless we get those projects built, we control the dust to protect people, and we provide habitat for birds.”

Lynes says that if this problem were happening in Los Angeles or San Francisco, he believes it would’ve been solved 10 years ago.

“[I]t’s unfair and inequitable to the people that live in that area to continue to let the problem linger.”

You can learn more about the shrinking Salton Sea and the Salton Sea Management Plan at resources.ca.gov/salton-sea.