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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New online map for birding the Salton Sea
Audublog

Explore the birds of the Salton Sea

New interactive map shows you the best places to view birds at the Salton Sea.

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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

Lake Mead announcement emphasizes importance of resolving water supply reliability in CO River and Salton Sea
Press Center

Lake Mead announcement emphasizes importance of resolving water supply reliability in CO River and Salton Sea

— Audubon California urges state and federal officials to secure water supply reliability in the Lower Colorado Basin and the Salton Sea.
Salton Sea's evolving flows
Audublog

Salton Sea's evolving flows

Let's take a closer look at the changes in water flows that are driving the current effort to restore bird habitat at California's largest inland lake.

How Birds Benefit from the Colorado River
Water

How Birds Benefit from the Colorado River

Learn more about how Audubon is helping birds along the Colorado River.

Have you ‘eared? Eared Grebes need a healthy Salton Sea
Audublog

Have you ‘eared? Eared Grebes need a healthy Salton Sea

Waterbird is one of many species reliant upon Colorado River Delta inland sea

Redlands professor makes his case for the Salton Sea

The Los Angeles Times's Patt Morrison interviews Tim Krantz, a University of Redlands environmental studies professor, about what's at stake at the Salton Sea. An excerpt:

"If you had a 30-second TV spot to make your pitch for saving the Salton Sea, what would it say?

The sea is not an accident. It's not there in the isolated desert. It affects 1.5 million people who live around it. It's not a local, regional problem; it's much broader. To deal with it retroactively, only after thousands of people have lost their lives, only after property values from Palm Springs to the border have declined, only after the fish and wildlife values, the migratory bird values have been lost — we're facing the dilemma in perpetuity, trying to put Band-Aids on the problem. Or we can spend that money now and maybe get a return on our investment in short order."

Read the whole piece here.

Marcos Trinidad on his love for the Salton Sea
Water

Marcos Trinidad on his love for the Salton Sea

The Debs Park director says he'll do whatever it takes to make sure future generations get the joy he does from this special lake.

What is geothermal power, and how might it save the Salton Sea?
Audublog

What is geothermal power, and how might it save the Salton Sea?

Geothermal has the potential to be the renewable energy to help humans and birds in the area.

New state budget includes more than $80 million for Salton Sea restoration effort

American White Pelicans at the Salton Sea. Photo: Socaltimes via Flickr/creative commons

Conservation groups including Audubon California hope that more than $80 million included in the recently-approved state budget will be the first step in a longer, more substantial commitment from the Legislature to addressing the developing environmental crisis at the Salton Sea. The $80.5 million for planning and restoration at the Salton Sea, part of the $167 billion state budget, will ultimately come from Proposition 1 funds approved by voters in 2014.

While the new funding marks the largest amount that the State of California has ever contributed to restoration at the Salton Sea, it is nonetheless only a fraction of the several billion dollars that will be needed to stabilize the situation there.

The funding will help the state pay for the development of a long-term management plan that seeks to address the problems created by reduced water deliveries to California’s largest inland lake. As the Salton Sea shrinks in the coming years, it is expected to have serious ramifications for the more the 400 species of birds that rely on its habitat. Less water will also result in the exposure of hundreds of acres of plays, creating a toxic dust and a serious public health hazard.

Money will also jump-start restoration of habitat along the edge of the lake, creating infrastructure to move water to a number of habitat areas.

Little Hoover Commission calls for urgent action on the Salton Sea

American White Pelicans have long been a common sight at the Salton Sea. But that could change as fish populations dwindle due to increased salinity. Photo: Morgan Schmorgan/Flickr Creative Commons

An independent California oversight agency last week called on California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency to resolve the environmental disaster unfolding at the Salton Sea. In a strongly-worded letter, the state’s Little Hoover Commission shared the results of recent hearings, arguing that the Salton Sea should be given as high a priority as high speed rail, the twin tunnels, reduced carbon emissions, and increased renewable energy.

The Commission is responding to the upcoming implementation of water diversions from the Salton Sea that will eventually result in 40 percent less water filling the state’s largest inland lake. This will have a devastating impact on bird habitat and expose huge swaths of lakebed, potentially creating dust that will present a serious public health threat to the 650,000 Imperial County residents nearby.

Audubon California is particularly concerned about the situation at the Salton Sea because of the regions particularly high value to birds. More than 400 species use the Salton Sea, many of which are threatened or endangered species.

“Unlike a wildfire burning out of control or an oil spill blackening beaches, the Salton Sea disaster is slowly unfolding, and has been all but ignored until recently,” the letter reads. “When other disasters destroy California lives and livelihoods, Governors declare a state of emergency. The looming Salton Sea disaster warrants the same level of urgency.”

The commission offered four specific recommendations to get the state’s response to this crisis moving.

  • Make the Salton Sea a top priority
  • Ensure adequate resources to get the job done
  • Develop and publish a Gantt chart for project implementation
  • Assess Salton Sea management costs and develop a funding strategy

How you can help, right now