Salton Sea

Audubon California is helping shape the future of this remarkable place for birds.

White Pelicans at the Salton Sea. Photo: Robin L

The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in North America and is in danger of losing its ecological value. If it does, we will lose a vital part of the Pacific Flyway and face a toxic dust bowl that will threaten public health for more than a million Californians.

As part of the Colorado River Delta, the sea filled and dried for thousands of years prior to its current, 35-mile-long incarnation, which came into existence as the result of a massive flood of the Colorado River in 1905. The 350-square-mile sea has partially replaced wetland habitat lost to agricultural and urban conversion in the Colorado River Delta, California’s coast, and the San Joaquin Valley.

The sea is a globally significant Important Bird Area. For more than a century, the sea has served as a major nesting, wintering, and stopover site for millions of birds of more than 400 species. Today, tiny Eared Grebes winter by the thousands in rafts far out on its surface. American White Pelicans roost on mudflats and fish for tilapia in its shallows.

Recently, its water level dropped to the point that colonial seabirds began abandoning nesting sites en masse in 2013, and shallow, marshy habitat areas at the sea’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish, particularly at the south end. And in 2017, inputs of Colorado River water that have been maintaining a minimum sea level are scheduled to end, as more water is transferred from local agricultural uses to urban uses on the coast. As less water flows into the sea, it will shrink considerably, becoming more saline and eventually inhospitable to birds, fish, and insects.

Audubon California has the opportunity to help address some of the immense challenges of the Salton Sea. 

Birds of the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Birds of the Salton Sea

More than 400 species of birds come to the Salton Sea in California.

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Crisis looming at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Crisis at the Salton Sea

Water losses could soon present major problems for birds at the Salton Sea.

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Audubon's role at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Audubon at the Salton Sea

Audubon is speaking out for the birds in this troubled ecosystem.

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Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea

Research about how much habitat -- and what kind -- birds are using at the Salton Sea should guide restoration.

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Local students help migratory shorebirds of the Salton Sea
Audublog

Local students help migratory shorebirds of the Salton Sea

San Diego Audubon Society recently partnered with an elementary school to educate students about birds that rely on the Salton Sea.

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More about the Salton Sea

Andrea Jones gives an update on the Salton Sea

This is going to be a make-or-break year for the Salton Sea, as state officials attempt to figure out how to deal with the effects of wtaer diversions expected to kick in beginning in 2018. This is expected to have major implications not only for bird habitat, but for the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the area. Andrea Jones recently visited the Salton Sea to talk about the current situation, and what Audubon California is doing to help. Learn more about our work at the Salton Sea.

Christmas at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Christmas at the Salton Sea

Doing a Christmas Bird Count at the Salton Sea reveals a great deal about changes at California largest inland lake.

Audubon California’s new Salton Sea director brings local experience to effort to preserve critical bird habitat
Salton Sea

Audubon California’s new Salton Sea director brings local experience to effort to preserve critical bird habitat

Frank Ruiz will use his experience in the Imperial Valley to rally support for protecting bird habitat while addressing public health concerns associated with the Salton Sea.

Early draft of state Salton Sea management plan circulating

Buried in this mid-December article about negotiations to finalize a plan to avoid shortages at the Colorado River are early details of the much-awaited 10-year management plan for the Salton Sea. This is the plan that the state will eventually rely upon to protect bird habitat at the Salton Sea, and reduce dangerous dust pollution caused as the sea recedes. Anyway, here's what the article says about the plan:

"The document, which was obtained by The Desert Sun, summarizes the state’s proposals for a “smaller but sustainable lake” and lays out broad goals for building new wetlands along the lake’s receding shores to cover up stretches of exposed lake bottom and provide habitat for birds.

The document says an estimated 50,000 acres of “playa” will be left dry and exposed around the lake by 2028. The construction of “water backbone infrastructure” is to begin with ponds where water from the lake’s tributaries will be routed to create new wetlands. According to the 24-page document, which describes the Salton Sea Management Program, initial construction will start on exposed lakebed west of the mouth of the New River “to take advantage of existing permits.”

The draft says that in addition to building wetlands, the state also will use “waterless dust suppression” techniques in some areas. Those approaches can include using tractors to plow stretches of lakebed to create dust-catching furrows, or even laying down bales of hay on the exposed lake bottom as barriers to block windblown dust."

Audubon California has been deeply involved in the process of creating the state management plan, and will continue to advocate for sufficient habitat for birds and other wildlife. A recent report from Audubon California determined that the Salton Sea needs to provide about 58,000 acres of habitat to maintain the bird populations currently using the lake.

Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Roadmap for protecting bird habitat at the Salton Sea

Research about how much habitat -- and what kind -- birds are using at the Salton Sea should guide restoration.

New report offers roadmap for protecting birds at the Salton Sea
Press Center

A roadmap for protecting birds at the Salton Sea

New study shows acreage of habitat state needs to provide to maintain area’s role on the Pacific Flyway.

Audubon’s work in California’s Central Valley may open opportunities for birds at the Salton Sea
Salton Sea

Audubon’s work in California’s Central Valley may open opportunities for birds at the Salton Sea

Can Audubon California’s efforts to support birds on Central Valley farms can be translated to the Imperial Valley?

Audubon California's Brigid McCormack was among the group that visited the Salton Sea this week to look at birds and take a look at new efforts to create habitat. Among the 82 species the group saw in two days was a Little Blue Heron, Verdin, and Phenopepla.

The birds of the Salton Sea need our help
Salton Sea

The birds of the Salton Sea need our help

Actress and conservationist Jane Alexander recalls her first birding trips to California's largest lake.

Op-ed in LA Times: Where’s the money and the plan that will save the Salton Sea?

Opinion piece in Sunday's Los Angeles Times seeks to put some pressure on the state of Californi to take sufficient action to protect habitat and public health at the Salton Sea:

There have been glimmers of progress. Last fall, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife restoration project got under way at Red Hill Bay in the federal Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge at the lake. It will transform 420 acres of dried-out landscape into shorebird habitat again, and it is already fully funded, leaving the $30 million promised by Washington in September for other projects.

At about the same time the feds went to work at Red Hill Bay, Brown signed a law that mandates the restoration of up to 12,000 acres of exposed lake bed by 2020 (the $80.5 million he set aside in the summer is a down payment on the mandate).

However, even if all pending restoration projects go forward (most haven’t broken ground) only 3,000 acres of dry lake bed would be reclaimed by 2020. A greater sense of urgency is needed if even the most modest of goals is to be met.

How you can help, right now