SACRAMENTO — A portion of the California state budget that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this week will be used to finally begin restoration of the Salton Sea. The $80.5 million means a green light on wetland construction after countless environmental impact studies were made over the years.
These wetlands, which are set to be established on the south end of the body of water, will provide a habitat for wildlife, which has been rapidly declining.
Because it’s a static lake, and the water has nowhere to travel once it’s deposited from the Colorado River by means of canals and other rivers, creating one of the bigger problems of increasing salt levels. Salts have been building since the Sea was last permanently formed in the flood of 1906. Perhaps a larger crisis is the shrinking shore line, especially after the mitigation water stops in December of 2017.
Water flows into the lake, the lowest spot in the Valley, and because there is no outlet, and the only way water leaves is by evaporation. When the water evaporates, those salts are left behind, and over the years, they accumulate.
The large amount of salt makes wildlife survival difficult. Even the tilapia fish, one of the few salt-tolerant species, are starting to die off.
The endangered pupfish, native to the region, has been another tough survivor in the Salton Sea. Other species were imported in the mid-20th century for recreational fishing. Once wetland construction is complete, the new habitat will allow both types of fish to survive as well as provide a refuge for migrating birds.
As IID turns off the QSA-delegated spigot, today’s shoreline will rapidly shrink, exposing the toxic salt and chemical laden playa that will turn to dust and be picked up by the region’s windstorms, contaminating air quality and raising the asthma and cancer levels for the most vulnerable.
Workshops are being held in the Valley cities to inform the community and get a sense of what they want to see in a restored Salton Sea — but for the time being, the main goal for construction is creating a livable environment for wildlife. Recreational uses will be addressed in the future.