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Salton Sea Sense

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

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Public Health

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”

Salton Sea: May the (Task) Force be with you

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The Salton Sea Task Force convened in Sacramento on Tuesday to assess the progress of the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP), which has declared specific goals for habitat and shoreline restoration. The task force was led by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), and heard from four agencies with updates: the CA Natural Resources Agency, the Colorado River Regional Water Quality Control Board, the CA Air Resources Board, and the CA Energy Commission. All gave presentations ranging from fresh perspectives on older, well-known data, to hot off the press developments within their agencies. Continue reading “Salton Sea: May the (Task) Force be with you”

Dust to Dust

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While there are many risks associated with the drying of the Salton Sea, perhaps the most concerning is the risk to public health. Previous posts on this blog discussed the health effects of dust from the Salton Sea, and that these health effects could end up costing around $29 billion. However, you may be thinking that these risks and costs are exaggerations or scare tactics. How could the dust from the Salton Sea make such a big difference when it is relatively small (343 square miles) when compared to the whole Salton Basin area of 8,360 square miles? Also, the majority of the basin is not covered by crops to reduce the wind erosion and transport of dust. So how can the drying of the Salton Sea which is approximately 3% of the total basin area, have such a disproportionate impact on the air quality? The answers to these questions lie in the composition of the sediment that lies below the Salton Sea. Continue reading “Dust to Dust”

A Solution is The Solution

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Ask anyone who cares about the Salton Sea and surrounding areas what it is they want for the Sea, and you will almost unanimously hear, “restoration,” as part of their response. Everyone will have a different perspective on the definition of that term, but common denominators include: 1) protecting public health by keeping water on the playa, or exposed lakebed, thereby preventing increased fugitive dust, and 2) supporting an ecosystem comprised of plants, fish, and birds.

Podium at the
Podium at the “playa-breaking” ceremony for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project

Salton Sea advocates all have a new, long overdue reason to celebrate with the beginning of construction for the Red Hill Bay Restoration Project at the southeast portion of the Sea. On Thursday, November 5, 2015, two Salton Sea Sense members, Holly Mayton and Drew Story, attended the “playa breaking” ceremony where local, state, and federal partners broke ground. Under the supervision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, this project aims to blend together Alamo River water with existing Salton Sea water, and cover 450 acres of currently exposed playa, thereby creating a saline wetland habitat for birds; addressing those two common denominators previously mentioned[1].

Continue reading “A Solution is The Solution”

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”

Salton Sea Scents: What’s that smell?

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Algae overtaking the Salton Sea due to high nutrient load(eutrophic conditions). Source: https://desertsearat.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/algal-blooms-fish-die-offs-oh-my/

In the past few months the Salton Sea has been putting off a worrisome odor with increasing frequency. The smell has been strong enough that the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)[1] has issued odor warnings to people living in the immediate area. For residents of the Coachella Valley, the key questions here are, “What makes the Salton Sea stink?” and “Is that smell dangerous?”

Continue reading “Salton Sea Scents: What’s that smell?”

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”

The Value of the Sea

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When deciding whether it is useful to invest resources in a public good, one must compare costs and returns. If the returns outweigh the costs and risks, then we would be better off by allocating resources to the investment. What if such public or private good already exists, such as a part of nature, and we ask ourselves: Is the value of maintenance greater than the cost of upkeep? Or can we do better by developing it into something else?

Think of the Grand Canyon, a US national park that had close to 4.6 million visitors in 2013 [1]. Consider the economic benefits of those visitors and the price of preserving the park in its natural state. What if, instead, we could develop the Grand Canyon to build malls and casinos? Would it bring in more revenue? Many would argue, with reason, that given the uniqueness of the national park, the Grand Canyon in its natural state is a more valuable resource than in any other form.

Value is usually gauged by market prices. Given that the Grand Canyon is not a market good with a price tag, what is its value? Economists have long thought about ways to elicit the value of non-market goods, paving the way for the field of environmental valuation [2] . Many valuation methods have been used to produce estimates of existence and use value of natural habitats. These estimates often provide robust lower bound measures of worth that are high enough to justify the existence, maintenance or development of new parks, beaches, forests, etc. Economists have found that value can be determined by the prices people are willing to pay to visit a place, or how much they would pay to preserve it (even if they do not intend to visit) and by taking into account how changes in environmental quality affect wildlife, human health and worker productivity [3].

So, what do economists say about the value of the Salton Sea? Continue reading “The Value of the Sea”

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