Salton Sea

An aerial view of the Salton Sea with sections marked for dust abatement projects.

EL CENTRO — County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas issued a letter addressed to Governor Gavin Newsom Monday, November 4, outlining funding and resource requests to support the board of supervisors’ proclamation of Local Emergency for Air Pollution at the Salton Sea unanimously passed October 22.

The board of supervisors discussed and approved the item at their regularly scheduled board meeting November 5. The CEO’s letter can be found below.

Dear Governor Newsom:

On October 22, 2019, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Proclamation of Local Emergency for Air Pollution at the Salton Sea to address extreme conditions peril to the safety of the residents and properties located within Imperial County.

In the 1980s and 1990s, inflows to the Salton Sea were approximately 1.2 to 1.3 million acre-feet per year, with the majority of the flow from agricultural returns augmented with inflows from Mexico and other sources. However, with the signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) in 2003, farmers became more efficient with the use of irrigation water. As directed in the QSA, mitigation water, meant to replace conserved agricultural runoff, stopped flowing into the sea in 2015. This in combination with a decrease of inflows from Mexico have resulted in less water flowing into the Salton Sea creating the extreme air pollution Imperial County residents are currently experiencing.

By 2017, approximately 16,200 acres of playa were exposed along the Salton Sea shoreline. It is estimated that by 2047 approximately 74,000 acres of playa will be exposed. This equates to approximately 4 miles from the point of the shoreline in 2003 to the edge of the water. An animation of this progression, documented by the 11D, can be found at https: // /Sua-gQyTScU.

As harmful dust is exposed at the Salton Sea, dangerous air pollution, including PM10 and PM25, is emitted into the air causing extreme conditions to the environment. Imperial County officials have determined these conditions are beyond the control of our services, personnel, equipment and facilities. By declaring an emergency, we are seeking to streamline the permitting process and gain additional supportive resources to accelerate the mitigation efforts to address air quality impacts to Imperial County residents and properties.

Following is a specific list of equipment and resources we are seeking:


Epidemiologic Study (Exhibit A)

An in-depth epidemiologic study, in partnership with local schools, is needed to investigate the prevalence of asthma, asthma exacerbations, and other health related symptoms among school-aged children and to examine the relationship between asthma and personal, familial and environmental risk factors. The study could be done in partnership with a regional university familiar with environmental, respiratory health and other issues surrounding the Salton Sea.

Additional resources would be necessary to support the proposed study, which would require the deployment of a local Public Health team composed of the following:


Data Analyst

Four to six community health workers familiar with the region 

Emissive Soil Analysis (Exhibit B)

To better understand potential health impacts associated with exposed playa due to the receding Salton Sea, funding is requested to conduct soil testing along the exposed shoreline around the sea and the areas between the exposed playa areas and populated communities to examine the potential toxicity of the dust and the extent of saltation and the creation of missive soils.

Resources necessary to support an Emissive Soil Analysis program include the following: o Environmental Compliance Specialist III to conduct regular sampling and reporting

Environmental Toxicologist

  • California Analytical Laboratory (ELAP certified) testing
  • Partnership with the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), or a regional research university familiar with environmental, respiratory health and other issues surrounding the Salton Sea for data analysis and evaluation.

Toxic Air Data Analysis

Funding is requested to conduct a toxic air data analysis by placing air monitoring stations at nearby school sites, local townships and any areas where large number of people congregate or live near and around the Salton Sea.

Resources necessary to support Toxic Air Data Analysis program include the following:   

Toxic air monitoring station

Environmental Toxicologist

Research Scientist


A groundwater test in Salton City will be performed to determine if water is available and water quality for native vegetation enhancement within the project area. The test will be constructed in two phases: 1) drilling a pilot boring to conduct water availability and water quality analysis and 2) completing a test well. Vegetation enhancement acts as playa coverage and surface stabilization. Vegetation enhancement in the area around the

Alamo River (Alamo South and Red Hill Bay West) can be utilized on other areas around the Salton Sea where a river or drain has available water and soil conditions are suitable for vegetation.

Exhibit C identifies project area locations along the Salton Sea shoreline where the following requested equipment would be used for the aforementioned projects.

Swamp Dozer - Komatsu LGP Dozer D6Pxi-24

This equipment will be utilized to extend the agricultural runoff drains to allow redirection of drains into either the Salton Sea or a water conveyance system to provide water to additional areas around the Salton Sea for habitat or air quality projects. Certified personnel are requested to operate the machinery properly.

Bull Plow Equipment

The bull plow is used for implementation of surface roughening, creating large durable ridges to promote temporary dust control on the Salton Sea playa. This dust control measure is only viable in certain areas of the playa. This waterless solution can be implemented quickly.

Lift Pumps

Lift pumps will pull water from the Alamo River and directed to flood the Red Hill Bay project area. In addition, pumps will be utilized to irrigate vegetation areas on Red Hill Bay West and Alamo South project sites.

As reported by the California Natural Resources Agency (Exhibit D), since 2003 there has been $653 million in federal, state and local funds authorized for appropriation for Salton Sea mitigation and restoration projects. However, during this same time frame, only $184 million has been spent. Projects that were promised as part of the Salton Sea 10-year plan have stalled and progress has moved at an alarmingly slow pace.

Therefore, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors respectfully request that you recognize the extreme harmful conditions in and around the Salton Sea and proclaim a State of Emergency exists in Imperial County.

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