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.
The Los Angeles Times has a strong story out today about how patience is running out for the state to make good on its promises at the Salton Sea:
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia watched with ill-disguised frustration as a hearing aimed at expediting state projects to restore habitat and control dust storms at the shrinking Salton Sea instead dissolved into discussion of why the efforts were falling further behind schedule.
"We have a plan, we have money, there is additional money lined up, and we have a constituency — myself included — that is running out of patience," Garcia (D-Coachella), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, said.
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.
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