Habitat Restoration: Common Ground

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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. Continue reading “Habitat Restoration: Common Ground”

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 Bird is the Word, Part 2

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The first post on this topic established that the Salton Sea is an ecological oasis and one of the last existing stops in southern California for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. However, it was mentioned previously that there are many factors which are threatening this avian Eden. Each of these threats will be addressed in more detail individually, with the first being avian botulism toxin.

Avian botulism toxin is produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. While the bacteria is commonly found in soils and wetlands, it will not produce the botulism toxin unless certain environmental conditions are met. In order for the bacteria to produce the toxin, it needs an anaerobic environment, warm temperatures, and a protein source.[1] Do these conditions sound familiar? In the summer, low dissolved oxygen levels, high temperatures, and the presence of dead algae (protein source) in the Salton Sea provide an ideal environment for the growth of C. botulinum and the subsequent production of avian botulism toxin. Continue reading “The Bird is the Word, Part 2”

Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium

Many of the predictions and concerns about the future of the Salton Sea are based on historical examples of other salt lakes around the world, and their impacts on local communities—some beneficial, and some disastrous. Three examples of highly saline terminal lakes, the Aral Sea, Owens Lake, and the Great Salt Lake, show some of the possible outcomes for the Salton Sea.

The drying of the Aral Sea has intense negative effects on communities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in terms of local economies, environments, and health. As the sea dried, dust storms and soil loss resulted in desertification of croplands and contamination of surface fresh water. [1] The shoreline retreated by miles, crippling the local economy, which was dependent on fishing and transportation. Due to extensive pesticide usage in the area, the dust from the Aral Sea contains DDT, PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals, which have been found at high levels in pregnant and nursing women in Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan. [2] Public health studies in the area have found widespread thyroid abnormalities, as well as lung malformations in children. [3]
Continue reading “Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium”

Saving the Sea

The world is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the Salton Sea and its impact on humans and to the environment, but what can be done to save the Salton Sea? The attempts to investigate and reduce the salinity in the Sea began in the 1960s [1]. However, the increased agricultural development and subsequent irrigation run-off into the Sea resulted in elevation of the water surface level and overlooking the need to control the salinity. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when the Federal and State agencies started looking into the Sea again. In 1992, the Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act authorized the United States Department of the Interior to conduct research to reduce and control the salinity of the Salton Sea [2]. Soon after, multiple agencies including Salton Sea Authority (SSA) started working with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other federal and state entities, which has led to numerous proposed alternative solutions to protect the Sea. Continue reading “Saving the Sea”

A Dusty Future

A drying sea

What happens if the Salton Sea dries up?

The climate in the area will shift, making winter more difficult for farmers in the area. The birds will have no place to rest along their migratory routes. However, most worrisome of all is the impact the drying sea can have on human health.

First, let’s imagine the scale of the Salton Sea. It is visible from orbit, shaped like a footprint in the sand, spread out over 343 square miles (889 km2). That is almost the size of Hong Kong and big enough to fit Manhattan Island ten times over. Now imagine that it has become a dry lakebed with very fine soil, perfect for being carried on the high winds common in the area. In the desert of Southern California, a sea of sand and gravel, more dusty space doesn’t seem like much of a concern. The major difference lies in the makeup of the dust and the sand. In the desert, the sand is made of silica and calcium carbonate, having the potential to clog up the lungs and irritate mucous membranes. In short, normal sand might give you a bad cough, but little else. In the case of the Salton Sea, dust can turn into a more serious health hazard.
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