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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.

Aerial View of Morton Bay and Red Hill Bay, Courtesy of USGS.
Aerial View of Morton Bay and Red Hill Bay. Image belongs to USGS.

One of the early habit projects was announced by the State of California and the environmental analysis process formally began in June 2010[1]. The “State of California Species Conservation Habitat” project is intended to provide feeding, resting, and breeding habitat for birds, particularly migratory fish-eating birds whose habitat is quickly deteriorating[2]. The project site is located near the mouth of the New River and is permitted to develop up to 3,770 acres. Funding has been received for approximately 640 acres, and construction was anticipated to be completed by late 2013. However, that deadline was extended to 2016[3].

In 2008, the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/ Natural Community Conservation Plan received its California state permit and federal permit to protect core habitat for 27 plant and animal species and a portion of the Salton Sea is being protected by this plan[4]. Later, Coachella Valley Water District proposed the “CVWD Constructed Habitat Project”, which includes plans to construct habitat along the northern Salton Sea shoreline consisting of 66 acres of wetlands, 44 acres of Sonoran cottonwood-willow riparian forest, and 25 acres of desert pupfish managed replacement habitat. No dates have been set to start this project.

IID and Sephton Water Technology developed a “Marine Habitat Pilot Project” that implements a pilot-scale facility to evaluate the potential to distill Salton Sea water using renewable energy to provide hyper-saline water to the salinity gradient solar pond and freshwater to the adjacent marine habitat ponds.[5]. This project was awarded several grants in 2013 and early 2014, and a demonstration plant began construction in 2014. The progress seems promising, although feasibility of providing habitable environments to marine life is yet to be determined.

It is encouraging that many small efforts are coming to fruition to restore the Salton Sea. However, we have seen habitat restoration plans in every new proposal. But even on this matter of common interest, projects are constantly delayed. If the broader Salton Sea solution must start from somewhere, habitat restoration should be first in line. Hopefully the newly released proposal by the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI), will expedite the process of implementing proposed habitat restoration plans and furthermore, provide the starting point for future development at the Salton Sea.

Written by Caroline Kim

[1] California Department of Water Resources. “Salton Sea Update Newsletter March 2013”. Available at  http://www.water.ca.gov/saltonsea/docs/SaltonSeaUpdate_Mar2013.pdf

[2] California Department of Water Resources. “Species Conservation Habitat Project, Final EIS/R”. Available at http://www.water.ca.gov/saltonsea/

[3]  Imperial Irrigation District. Draft SSRREI Framework Document – Part 1 of 2.  Available at http://www.iid.com/home/showdocument?id=10123

[4] Coachella Valley Water District. “Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan Fact Sheet”. Available at http://www.cvmshcp.org/doc/Fact%20Sheet%20CVMSHCP%20-%20Revised%20June%2025%202013.pdf

[5] Sephton Water Technology. “Salton Seawater Marine Habitat Pilot Project”. Available at http://www.sephtonwatertech.com/projects.html