EL CENTRO – Al Kalin, Westmorland farmer and Salton Sea expert, gave a comprehensive and sweeping presentation on the State of the Salton Sea to the Board of Supervisors, Tuesday.
He challenged many commonly held beliefs concerning the largest lake in California. The first was the assumption of the sea being “accidental” as Barbara Boxer, past Interior Secretary Salazar, and other officials have tagged it because of the overflow of the Colorado River in 1905.
The Imperial Valley is part of the massive Colorado River delta and the silt the mighty river carried over millennium eventually created a berm that separated the northern body of water from the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California.
The northern lake was first named Lake Cahuilla and occupied most of the valley. Kalin had photos depicting several people 40 feet up the local mountains sitting at the water mark that once showed how high the lake rose.
As drought, flash floods, and Colorado River flooding changed the giant lake, archeologists agree that for over 75% of the past 1300 years, the lake existed.
Kalin informed the board that the major reason for the receding shoreline was drought and not the water transfer. He said the IID has been allowing extra water to flow to the sea to mitigate the water transfer. California is in a severe drought and that has caused the shoreline to shrink. More problems will arise when the IID stops the extra water to mitigate the effects of the QSA and the drought continues. “Then you will see the sea rapidly decrease,” Kalin said.
Irrigating the valley brought changes to the Salton Sea, also. The sea has declined and rose according to farming practices these past 100 years, according to Kalin.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed an executive order saying, “All submerged lands in the Salton Sink are set aside as a permanent repository for irrigation drainage waters. Imperial Irrigation District will control flooding rights on most of the land below the minus -220 elevation.’
Kalin explained how the sea creates a beneficial micro-climate for the ranches surrounding the body of water. The Sea assures frost proof growing for the eastern shore, and bankers loan farm dollars for fragile crops to be grown in the buffer zone, knowing the climate fluctuates between 49 and 55 degrees for the lows during the winter.
The summer southeast breeze also cool the downwind fields keeping the summer highs between 90-95 degrees.
The weather buffering aspects and the natural habitat are two vital reasons for saving the sea, Kalin told the board. A negative aspect, just as important a reason for keeping the sea at past levels, is the health aspects. The exposed playa allows wind to blow an asthma- inducing white smoke- like pollution through the valley. Interestingly enough, Kalin pointed out that the QSA states habitat over human health as a primary cause for healing the sea.
The sea collects water runoff from over 5 million acres as three sides of the Salton Sea are mountains that slope to the sea and the fourth side, the Imperial Valley uses gravity to carry field run off to the sink.
Kalin heralded the successful efforts the farmers have done, imposing total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of silt that can be washed into the drainage ditches. Silt is the principal conveyor of phosphate, the source of algae bloom in the sea. By best farming practices, the phosphate discharge into the sea has decreased by 71%. There have been other benefits to their improved farming practices concerning the sea.
Other trials, such as wetlands, have shown to be successful also. Kalin told the board the time for research and the money it consumes is over. Many of these small, inexpensive projects that have been tried and tested throughout the Valley need to be implemented.
Kalin astutely noted that the problem for the valley is we have 3.1 million acre feet of water and 175,000 people. The thirsty coast has 18 million people. They have 32 voting congressman and the Valley has ½ of 1.
Owens Valley to our north, whose water was taken from them for the cities, is the dustiest place in the United States. Kalin asked if the Imperial Valley will overtake Owens Valley as the dustiest site in the U.S. if we lose our water?