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Salton Sea Sense

A resource for California's largest lake and potential environmental catastrophe

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Environmental Justice

Salton Sea and the New Normal

Last month, Salton Sea Sense had the opportunity to host and hear from Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute. The Pacific Institute aims to provide science-based leadership and outreach to inform public water policy, and Cohen has been working specifically on the Salton Sea since 1998. He recently published an excellent Institute blog post on the current “fortunes and prospects” at the Sea, which is available here.

In his talk at UC Riverside, Cohen outlined some of the challenges that continue to face the Salton Sea. One of those challenges is the perception of Sea as an “artificial” ecosystem, which we have previously blogged about. Cohen pointed out that the whole of the State of California’s water is part of a managed system that includes man-made aqueducts, reservoirs and pumps. The Salton Sea is an essential part of this system as one of the last remaining aquatic habitat options in the southwestern United States for birds on the Pacific Flyway. Continue reading “Salton Sea and the New Normal”

Mexico and the Salton Sea

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So far, this blog has discussed extensively the ecological and socio-economic consequences of allowing the Salton Sea to dry up. The decline in the air quality around the Salton Sea due to exposed playa is a problem that will extend to many cities in the southwestern U.S., the economic burden of allowing the Sea to dry will be shared among all Californians, and water allocations that impact the Sea are decided by intra-state agreements. Without a doubt, the Salton Sea is a complex system that must involve not only the local communities, but also different states and even nations. An important player that has largely been left out of discussions thus far is our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Continue reading “Mexico and the Salton Sea”

AB 965 California and Mexico Border: Water Resources Improvement

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia speaking to the Assembly Select Committee on Renewable Energy Development and Restoration of the Salton Sea
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia speaking to the Assembly Select Committee on Renewable Energy Development and Restoration of the Salton Sea. Courtesy of ASMDC.org

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Assembly Bill 965, written by Eduardo Garcia from the 56th District, amends previous legislation to increase cooperation with Mexico and allocates money to be used for watershed restoration projects along the US-Mexico border. [1] Specifically, AB 965 adds the Secretary of State and Consumer Services to the California-Mexico Border Relations Council as a voting member, and it allows the US EPA Region 9 to appoint a non-voting representative to the council as well. Similarly, the bill also requires the council to invite representatives from Mexico to any meetings that are held by the council. As far as resource allocation, the bill makes funds available from the California Border Environmental and Public Health Protection Fund to the California-Mexico Border Relations Council, to be used to:

“… identify and resolve environmental and public health problems that directly threaten the health or environmental quality of California residents or sensitive natural resources of the California border region, including projects related to domestic and industrial wastewater, vehicle and industrial air emissions, hazardous waste transport and disposal, human and ecological risk, and disposal of municipal solid waste.” [2]

Continue reading “AB 965 California and Mexico Border: Water Resources Improvement”

A Clean Bill(s) of Health for Salton Sea Residents

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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. Continue reading “A Clean Bill(s) of Health for Salton Sea Residents”

Water Rights and the Salton Sea

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For a long time now, the Salton Sea has been close to the bottom of the priority list when it comes to water allocations and this has placed the Sea in a very tight spot. We have discussed extensively the consequences of allowing the Sea to dry and the temporary solutions outlined under the QSA. It has been recognized by the many stakeholders that the Salton Sea needs help but not much has been done. The Salton Sea needs a long-term solution that could give it hope for a sustainable future. Given the current conditions of the Salton Sea and the implications of allowing it to dry, perhaps an ambitious solution would be to incorporate the Salton Sea into future revisions of regional water laws. Continue reading “Water Rights and the Salton Sea”

What YOU Can Do!

The Salton Sea’s problems are so large that a single person’s desire to help can seem insignificant. But if you believe the Salton Sea needs help, and you want to see action taken quickly, you can do something about it! Your elected representatives are waiting to hear from you on any and all issues concerning their constituents. Their job is to represent the wishes of the residents that live in their districts. So let them know you care about the Salton Sea, and you want it to be a high priority! Start local, with your Assemblymembers and State Senators, progressing on to US Congress Members, and US Senators, and even Governor Brown.

Do you live outside of Southern California, but still care about the Sea? You can write to Governor Jerry Brown, or US Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and let them know that the Salton Sea is such a California treasure that non-locals or even non-residents want to see it made a high priority!
Continue reading “What YOU Can Do!”

The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians

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The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians has resided in the northern region of the Salton basin since 1876, when President Ulysses S. Grant officially established their tribe through an executive order. Members of the modern day Torres-Martinez Band have a large investment in the Salton Sea, literally. Over 10,000 acres of their Native American Reservation, nearly half of the total checker-boarded 24,800 acres, lie under the surface of the Sea, unreachable by the tribe until the water line recedes (Figure 1). However, the story of this underwater acreage is often reported incorrectly.

Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2006standards/rec/letters/T_Torres_Martinez_Tribal_Council_CMT.pdf
Figure 1. Map of the Torres-Martinez reservation and surrounding area. Click to enlarge. Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2…

When the Salton Sea was formed in 1905, the Torres-Martinez did not own much, if any of the affected land. Rather in 1909, an amendment to the Mission Indian Relief Act granted the Torres-Martinez an additional 12,000 acres of land, 9,000 of which were beneath the newly formed Salton Sea. However, this was not meant to be a practical joke played by the federal government. Based on the evaporation rate of the Sea at the time, most people expected the land to be dry and available to the tribe within 25 years [1].

Then, agriculture in the Salton Sea region began to take off in the years following, and natural runoff and irrigation drainage from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys has kept most of the Torres-Martinez land submerged. Continue reading “The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians”

Response to SSRREI

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Last week, Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) released a draft of a proposal developed to be presented to the State of California. This proposal, named the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI) is different from previous remediation proposals submitted on behalf of the Salton Sea by various groups. This proposal in particular does not merely ask for a large sum of money, but delineates just how the state can fund the project and recover its investment. Continue reading “Response to SSRREI”

Fish Bones and Game of Thrones

The Salton Sea: once a prized weekend destination, now a dilapidated afterthought in the middle of the desert. The Sea lost its appeal to many people after it became highly saline and oxygen-deprived from agricultural run-off. These conditions lead to massive fish kills that created shores composed of fish bones and seasonal pungent odors. Today, the fate of the Sea is uncertain. On its current trajectory, with the impending reduction of water due to the Quantification Settlement Agreement and with no plan to prevent its demise, the Salton Sea will become an ecological disaster and public health burden. Here at Salton Sea Sense we all agree that something needs to be done about the Salton Sea. However, there is a lot of debate about who should be stepping up to take responsibility to make the decision and to fund restoration projects. The problem is there are so many different parties involved in the Salton Sea that it is impossible to determine who is most affected by the Sea and its fish bone beaches.

You could say that keeping track of all the stakeholders in the Salton Sea is almost as confusing as trying to keep track of all the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In honor of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, we give you: Game of Bones (cue theme song). Continue reading “Fish Bones and Game of Thrones”

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