Salton Sea Crisis
Fly Congressman, conservation partners, faith leaders, and public health organizations over the Salton Sea to visualize the mass degradation of this ecosystem and to promote political action.
Once a tourist attraction for the rich and famous, the Salton Sea in southern California is now a massive source of pollution. From algal blooms to dust pollution to toxic air, the Salton Sea is a major public health threat to the nearly one million people living in the surrounding area.
The Salton Sea was designated an Audubon Important Bird Area of global significance. At its height more than 400 species of birds made regular use of the Salton Sea's deep water, shoreline, mudflats and wetlands, 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 their invertebrate food-source, the Eared Grebes have dwindled from millions to just handfuls. The majestic American White Pelicans, whose numbers each winter were in the thousands, have decreased to just a few birds. Not so long ago, the pelicans were so populous and popular that a festival was held each winter in their honor.
Nearly 100 square miles of the Sea we flew above is projected to dry-up in the next decade, leaving the lakebed exposed. This will uncover soil ridden with heavy metals, small particulate matter, and pesticide residues. The Salton Sea contamination was clearly visible from the plane. When dry, these toxic materials become subject to be blown 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 threat to public health.
As the Salton Sea continues to shrink, the threat to people and the risk of wildfire increases. The Federal government owns more than 60% of the land in and outside the lake. While the state has instituted a management program, change isn't happening fast enough. Our partners are pushing for the Federal government to partner with the state and local governments to institute a program that will provide much-needed habitats for the birds and wildlife, suppress dust erosion, and provide economic benefits to the region.