Salton Sea

IMPERIAL COUNTY — The Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD) issued Notices of Violation (NOVs) to California Department of Water Resources (DWR), California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), and United States Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS) for failure to implement adequate dust control on the Salton Sea playa on the Species Conservation Habitat project site near Westmorland, California.

In addition, as landowners of the project site, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and United States Bureau of Land Management (US BLM) were also issued NOVs, according to a press release.

DWR, CNRA, IID, US BLM, and US FWS have failed to maintain adequate dust control on the Salton Sea playa, which violates ICAPCD Rule 804 for Open Areas which states that all persons who own or otherwise have jurisdiction over an Open Area shall comply with the conditions of a stabilized surface at all times. Additional violations were issued to US BLM and US FWS for failure to comply with the conformity provisions of the Federal Clean Air Act and ICAPCD Rule 925. 

ICAPCD has issued these violation notices to protect the public’s health and safety and is committed to working with all violating agencies to bring them into compliance as soon as possible. According to the release, air pollution violations can result in substantial environmental harm and financial penalties.  

The Species Conservation Habitat Project (SCH Project) is located at the southern end of the Salton Sea along the New River. The SCH Project will create a series of ponds with islands and areas of varying water depths to serve as fish and bird habitat. It will also reduce airborne dust caused from exposed playa caused by a receding Salton Sea. The SCH Project is managed by DWR, which is an agency under CNRA. In addition, US FWS has existing leases on various land parcels within the SCH Project. Since July 2020, the site has produced multiple events of excessive airborne dust violating ICAPCD rules, threatening public health and safety.

According to the California Air Resources Control Board (CARB), small airborne dust particles deposit on the surfaces of the larger airways of the upper region of the lung. Particles deposited on the lung surface can induce tissue damage, and lung inflammation. Exposure to small dust particles are associated with worsening of respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), leading to hospitalization and emergency department visits. Older adults with chronic heart or lung disease, children, and asthmatics are more likely to experience adverse health effects. Children and infants are more susceptible to harm from inhaling fine dust particles because they inhale more air per pound of body weight than do adults, they breathe faster, spend more time outdoors, and have smaller body sizes. In addition, children's immature immune systems may cause them to be more susceptible to particulate matter than healthy adults. 

For several years, ICAPCD has been collaborating with various stakeholders, notably IID, on addressing air pollution caused by the receding Salton Sea shoreline, according to the release. Although progress has been made in assessing ways to reduce airborne dust from the playa and developing projects that reduce dust, real progress on protecting public health will only occur if those responsible for controlling airborne dust on the playa follow through on their commitments and adhere to the requirements of ICAPCD’s rules. With the issuance of these NOVs, ICAPCD is taking the necessary steps to protect human health and the environment.

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