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”

Let’s be SSWIFT about it

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The Salton Sea Water Incremental Funding in Time (SSWIFT) proposal is another reason to be optimistic about restoration at the Sea. [1] SSWIFT, which is backed by County of Riverside District Supervisor John Benoit and the Salton Sea Authority (SSA), could be a simple solution for mitigating fugitive dust while other projects that focus on wildlife preservation and energy development are established around the Sea. Continue reading “Let’s be SSWIFT about it”

Harsh Habitat: The Endangered Desert Pupfish

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Several previous posts have discussed the ecological importance of the Salton Sea, particularly its effect on migratory birds. However, the Salton Sea is also home to a much less obvious endangered species, the tiny desert pupfish. Desert pupfish, which are less than 3” long fully grown, are an unusual species due to their incredible tolerance for extreme water conditions. The desert pupfish can survive at salinities of up to 70 g/L—more than double the salt concentration of seawater.[1] This has historically allowed the desert pupfish to live in saline lakes, rivers, and marshes throughout the deserts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Mexico.

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Desert Pupfish, Cyprinodon macularius, John Rinne

Continue reading “Harsh Habitat: The Endangered Desert Pupfish”

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.

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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”

Desalting the Sea: Part 1

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Much like the Salton Sea, many inland bodies of water suffer from rising salinity, which can harm biota and prevent beneficial water use. This salinization occurs when soil, which contains salts and minerals, is mobilized from clearing natural vegetation or when fresh water is diverted for irrigation. [1] As irrigation water and drinking water sources become increasingly salty, different solutions become necessary to recover freshwater. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leader in desalination, which is the industrial process of removing salt from water, with 50% of the nation’s drinking water recovered from seawater. [2] At the Salton Sea, desalination is being explored as a part of habitat restoration efforts. Continue reading “Desalting the Sea: Part 1”

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”