Last week, an article was published by KCET that addressed the question of Why Don’t Californians Care About Saving the Salton Sea? The authors conclude that the seemingly artificial nature of the Sea is what keeps it from gaining public support, especially by environmental activists. However, I would argue that the real issue with getting Californians to care about the Salton Sea is an issue of environmental justice. Residents of the Salton Sea region are among the poorest in the country, and simply don’t have the affluence to attract the level of attention that saving the Sea requires. In southern California, this makes it difficult to compete with the interests of neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and La Jolla.
However, we can see some progress being made to address these issues. Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown took action on some key legislation for the Coachella Valley, including the bills AB 2 and AB 1059.
AB 2, also known as the Community Revitalization Investment Authorities (CRIA) bill, will allow disadvantaged areas throughout the state to create a CRIA. A previous law dissolved many of these authorities in 2012. In particular, this bill includes means to secure funds for each CRIA to improve infrastructure, provide affordable housing, and further develop local economies, which would all be valuable at the Salton Sea. Communities would benefit directly from improved neighborhood conditions, increased employment opportunities, and reduced crime rates. However, these changes could also attract more visitors to the Sea to spend time enjoying its beauty and grandness for themselves. Improving economy and empowering community members in the region is one key way that policy can drive other Californians to care about the Salton Sea.
The low-income communities near the Salton Sea are also plagued with some of the worst air quality in the country. AB 1059, or the California Communities Environmental Health Screening bill, begins to address this environmental injustice. The bill requires the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to acknowledge and address the data, or lack thereof, collected by the CalEnviroScreen tool in the California-Mexico border region. This includes air quality, water quality, toxic release and hazardous waste data that are used as decision-making indicators throughout the state. This bill will provide much needed resources to combat and address the negative environmental and public health issues that impact neighborhoods within the Salton Sea air basin. Further, the collected data will enable other Californians to see the magnitude of the public health costs of the drying Sea.
Few Californians are informed about the challenges facing the Salton Sea today, and even fewer have visited the Sea to experience them firsthand. However, all Californians will ultimately foot the bill for the environmental and public health catastrophe if we do not address environmental justice issues and further empower the local communities. So, support your local and state officials on bills like AB 2 and AB 1059, and get out to visit the Salton Sea for yourself!
Written by Holly Mayton