Flights over the Salton Sea with Imperial Irrigation District Board members generated awareness about the environmental and public health crisis arising at the Sea in an effort to gain support for restoration projects from the board and elected officials.
The Salton Sea was designated an Audubon Important Bird Area of global significance, because at its height as a habitat for birds, more than 400 species of birds made regular use of the deep water, shoreline, mudflats, and wetlands at the Salton Sea, as well as the river channels and agricultural drains leading into it. In recent years, as the Sea's habitat becomes less stable, we have seen major changes for these birds. For instance, the Sea was historically a stopping point for 90% of the overwintering population of Eared Grebes. Now, with increasing salinity causing a change to the invertebrates that feed the Eared Grebes that percentage has dwindled from millions of birds to just handfuls. The majestic American White Pelicans, whose numbers each winter were in the thousands, have dwindled to just a few birds, as the fish have all but disappeared from most of the Sea. In fact, not so long ago, the pelicans were so populous and popular that a festival was held each winter in their honor.
It is projected that nearly 100 square miles of dry lakebed will be exposed within the next decade. This will expose soil underneath which contains heavy metals, small particulate matter, and pesticide residues. When dry, these materials become available to be blown on the wind throughout the Coachella Valley and surrounding communities. As a result, the Salton Sea could become the single biggest point source of air pollution in the country, and a major public health threat to the nearly one million people living in the surrounding area.
People and wildlife are at risk as the Salton Sea continues to shrink. While the state has instituted a management program, it isn't creating change fast enough and our partners are pushing for a program that will provide much-needed habitats for the birds and wildlife, suppress dust erosion and provide economic benefits to the region.