Since the late 1990s, Audubon and Audubon California have been involved in helping shape policy regarding the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake and a key stopover for millions of birds each year. Southern California Audubon chapters – particularly the San Diego Audubon Society – initially drove this involvement and continue to be active promoting conservation concerns at this important site.
The Salton Sea is one of the state’s most important bird habitats, and it has long been a vexing conservation issue. As water has been siphoned off or agricultural and urban use, dust emissions have increasingly threatened public health and dramatically altered the quality of the water that migrating shorebirds rely upon for survival.
Salton Sea is home to at least 19 sensitive species including Brown Pelican, Least Bittern, White-faces Ibis, Wood Stork, Clapper Rail, Long-billed Curlew, and many others.
The conservation issues at Salton Sea are several. Increased salinity of the water regularly depletes food for birds. Disease, contamination and human encroachment are other major concerns. There have been several major die-offs of birds at the location, with major recent kills including 150,000 Eared Grebes in 1992, 9,000 White Pelicans in 1996, and more than 11,000 waterbirds in 1998.
Making matters worse has been decades of inaction on the part of policymakers. A 2003 agreement with the federal government to allow California to use the Salton Sea to transfer Colorado River water from Imperial Valley to San Diego complicated the issue tremendously. Although California agreed to provide for habitat restoration and dust mitigation, the state has yet to follow through on these promises, and the situation at Salton Sea has only gotten worse.