CALIPATRIA — Team Rubicon, the only volunteer, veteran-led disaster response organization, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Imperial Irrigation District have all teamed up with Case Construction to undertake a first of its kind restoration project for conserving the Salton Sea.
Construction crews will help improve 420 acres of exposed lakebed in Red Hill Bay that would otherwise create toxic dust, polluting the air and causing harm to the surrounding wilderness, wildlife, and agriculture communities. Red Hill Bay lies between the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and Red Hill Bay Marina.
According to statistics, the Salton Sea is receding at a high rate. In 2017, water conserved through the IID’s Quantification Agreement will cease going into the Salton Sea, causing the water way to continue shrink, allowing more playa to be exposed.
The Red Hill Restoration Project will re-establish the Red Hill Bay area as an important shallow–water habitat for migratory water birds and to cover the newly exposed playa with water in order to decrease dust released during wind events. Blending agricultural drain water with hyper-saline Salton Sea water and forming ponds along the sea’s edge will accomplish this.
Chris Schoneman, manager of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge, explained the benefits of the project.
“The Red Hill Bay Restoration Project will provide habitat for thousands of birds that will use it everyday,” said Schoneman. “This is a much better scenario that we have today on this dry playa. The second benefit to the project is that this area will attract thousands of visitors from all 50 states and over 20 foreign countries. Finally, air quality will be improved by covering up the exposed playa.”
“The design has been completed by the Imperial Irrigation District and work has started,” said Schoneman. “But, something cool has begun to take place. Case Construction Equipment approached the Fish and Wildlife Service with the interest of improving refuges across the country. At the same time, Team Rubicon approached the refuge system about how they could help. A partnership was formed between Team Rubicon and Case, with Team Rubicon providing the operators and Case providing the equipment for the project.”
“This is a fantastic development,” concluded Schoneman. “This is a benefit to the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea in terms of getting this project off the ground. This is the first step in the Salton Sea restoration.”
Team Rubicon is using the work on the project to get experience for disaster relief. They have had 20 operators working on the project and they expect 20 more to complete hours there.