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.
Research about how much habitat -- and what kind -- birds are using at the Salton Sea should guide restoration.
San Diego Audubon Society recently partnered with an elementary school to educate students about birds that rely on the Salton Sea.
Clearly, the Desert Sun has had it with the state's inability to get projects moving at the Salton Sea:
This harkens to the years of “one more study is needed” that we’d wearily grown accustomed to as we witnessed the sea’s long decline, which shifted into overdrive with the end of Colorado River water inflows at the close of 2017.
Still, it is shocking to hear this type of refrain so shortly after the state finally stepped up with its plan to fulfill its commitment to sea restoration under the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement that has shifted the water that had been replenishing the sea to thirsty urban customers.
Get to work, folks. Promises were made and the state cannot let the now more-rapidly receding sea spiral into an ecological and environmental disaster which will have effects far beyond its own shores.
Audubon Calfornia's Frank Ruiz talks about the need for the everyone to pull together to avert an ecological crisis at the Salton Sea -- to protect people and birds at the Salton Sea. Thanks to the Walton Family Foundation for putting this video together. Learn more about our work at the Salton Sea.
The California Water Resources Control Board yesterday heard a presentation from state officials on their progress toward meeting their goals for habitat restoration and dust control at the Salton Sea. According to an agreement completed late last year, the state must complete work on 500 acres by the end of the year, but there is little indication that it will reach even that modest goal.
Micheal Lynes, Audubon California's policy director, had this to say after the hearing:
"The deterioration of the Salton Sea continues, and the rate of progress on the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP) is not keeping up with the rapidly changing conditions. We encourage the State Water Resources Control board to work closely with state officials to ensure that upcoming deadlines are met– including constructing 500 acres’ worth of projects at the sea by the end of 2018.”
Michael Cohen, senior associate at the Pacific Institute, added:
"While the state has taken some steps towards implementing the Salton Sea Management Program, the rate of the progress is not nearly enough to keep up with the sea's decline. It is imperative that the State Water Resources Control Board hold the state to its commitment to build habitat and dust control projects at the Salton Sea, this year.”
Terrific op-ed in Water Deeply from Allison Harvey Turner Allison Harvey Turner, of the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and Barry Gold, of the Walton Family Foundation, about the State of California's recent progress addressing the environmental and public health crises at the Salton Sea:
"At the Salton Sea, the state has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to supporting human health, a resilient environment, a strong economy and a sustainable water strategy for Southern California. Now, promising plans on paper must turn into critical progress on the ground. We are closer than ever to solving the Salton Sea crisis. This is the time for diligence and dedication to make it happen."
Earlier this month, Audubon California led a group of chapter leaders to offer a firsthand look at the situation at the Salton Sea. We also co-hosted a community event to raise awareness about the developing environmental and public health crises.
Audubon California News comes to your email inbox every month with updates on our activities throughout the state, as well as other important conservation news.