Southern California’s Salton Sea—approximately 232 feet (70 m)
below sea level— is one of the world’s largest inland seas. It
has 130 miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
The sea was created in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through
a series of dikes, flooding a salty basin known as the Salton
Sink in the Imperial Valley. The sea is an important stopping
point for 1 million migratory waterfowl, and serves as critical
habitat for birds moving south to Mexico and Central America.
Overall, the Salton Sea harbors more than 270 species of birds
including ducks, geese, cormorants and pelicans.
Native American tribes, environmentalists, state and federal
agencies, river rafters and others say they have significant
concerns about proposals to dam a Colorado River tributary in
northern Arizona for hydropower.
Ambiguity exists in the language of the river’s foundational
document, the Colorado River Compact. That agreement’s language
remains unclear on whether Upper Basin states, where the
Colorado River originates, are legally obligated to deliver a
certain amount of water over a 10-year period to those in the
Lower Basin: Arizona, California, and Nevada.
Matt Dessert does not want to sue San Diego, nor does he want
to start a legal battle with the state of California. But the
growing threat to Imperial County’s air quality may leave
Dessert, an officer with the county Air Pollution Control
District, with little choice.
Imperial County has had enough. That was the message from the
county board of supervisors on Tuesday as they voted
unanimously to declare a local state of emergency at the Salton
Sea. And that may not be all: In addition to the action on the
state’s largest lake, supervisors said they will likely seek
another emergency declaration on the badly polluted New River —
which flows into the Salton Sea — in two weeks.
Imperial County is seeking to declare a public health
emergency at the Salton Sea … aiming to force Gov. Gavin
Newsom and federal officials to free up emergency funds
and take immediate action to tamp down dangerous dust.
Audubon California’s Salton Sea Program Director Frank Ruiz
served as the guide for this trip. Ruiz says the Salton
Sea is receding at an alarming rate, about 6-inches a year,
exposing toxic lake bed which is evident from the air.
Efforts to extract lithium at the Salton Sea could unite
environmentalists — who decry the destructive evaporation ponds
used to produce the metal in South America — and national
security hawks, who are loathe to rely on other countries for a
mineral poised to play a key role in powering the U.S. economy.
California’s largest inland lake, the Salton Sea, lies in the
Imperial and Coachella valleys. The lake, which is more than 50
percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean, is becoming more salt
than water because it’s essentially evaporating. The lake and
the area that surrounds it — once hotspots for tourism and
wildlife — have essentially become ghost towns.
We now have an opportunity to build on the successful Arizona
process that led to the DCP signing. Arizona is stronger
together. And that will serve us well as we work toward the
next step – maintaining a stable, healthy Colorado River system
as we face a hotter and drier future.
Lake Powell’s long decline may be on hiatus after this year’s
snowy winter, but activists still are raising concerns that
climate change could render Glen Canyon Dam inoperable. This
time, they are taking their concerns to court, asking a federal
judge to invalidate the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 20-year
operating plan for the towering dam..
The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years of drought and the dramatic
decline in water levels at the river’s key reservoirs have
pressed water managers to adapt to challenging conditions. But
even more extreme — albeit rare — droughts or floods that could
overwhelm water managers may lie ahead in the Basin as the
effects of climate change take hold, say a group of scientists.
I’ve spent half a day tormented by a problem that has already
tormented me many times before in my career: Where can one find
a Colorado River Basin map that is accurate? It seems like such
a simple task, but as others have noted before, it is an
ongoing problem. The list of problem areas is long, and many
seem to have a strong political motivation.
Water users in the Colorado River Basin have survived the
drought through a combination of water storage infrastructure
and voluntary actions to protect reservoir storage and water
supply. Adoption of drought contingency plans this summer,
developed over years of collaborative negotiation, takes the
next step by implementing mandatory action to reduce risk and
protect limited water supplies.
The intent of the Salton Sea restoration is to mitigate losses
of habitat for wildlife as the Salton Sea shrinks. However,
mitigating lost habitat by replacing it with something harmful
does not result in any benefits to wildlife; in fact, it makes
things worse by creating a new exposure pathway that subjects
wildlife to contaminants.
ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for
Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy,
about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s
agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.
The Colorado is the most significant water supply source in the
West, but it carries an annual salt load of nine to 10 million
tons, said Don Barnett, executive director of the Colorado
River Basin Salinity Control Forum. … For the past 40 years,
the the forum has been “silently working away” at improving
water quality and lowering salt content on the Colorado, which
supplies water to 40 million people in seven states and Mexico.
Rocky Mountain water managers worried about climate-driven
depletion across the Colorado River Basin are mulling a “grand
bargain” that would overhaul obligations among seven
southwestern states for sharing the river’s water. This
reflects rising concerns that dry times could turn disastrous.
Just a few months after completing the Drought Contingency Plan
for the Colorado River states, water managers in the southwest
will likely have to implement it starting in 2020. That’s
according to new projections for the levels of key reservoirs
in the southwestern river basin, and Arizona is first in line
to take water cutbacks.
Hydrogen sulfide is associated with the natural processes
occurring in the Salton Sea, a non-draining body of water with
no ability to cleanse itself. Trapped in its waters are salt
and selenium-laden agricultural runoff from surrounding farms,
as well as heavy metals and bacterial pollution that flow in
from Mexico’s New River, authorities said.
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water
from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a
set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to
reduce the risk of a crash.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday will release its
projections for next year’s supply from Lake Mead, a key
reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona,
California and Mexico. After a wet winter, the agency is not
expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of
water. But that doesn’t mean conditions are improving long
With big western cities clamoring for a share of the
river’s diminishing supply, desert farmers with valuable claims
are making multimillion dollar deals in a bid to delay the
inevitable. … But if the river’s water keeps
falling, more radical measures will be needed to protect
The recently adopted Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was an
important step toward addressing the Colorado Basin’s chronic
water shortages, but more work is needed to prepare for a
hotter, drier future. We talked to Doug Kenney, director of the
Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and
a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network,
about managing the basin for long-term water sustainability.
Ivan Soto has aspired to produce research with a positive
impact on the public — not just to benefit the academic
community. … His research examines the power dynamics of
infrastructure and water politics through an environmental
history of southernmost California’s Imperial Valley along the
Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved an aggregate
$1.79 million in expenditures for a project to clear the Salton
Sea north marina of dirt and debris to make the channel usable
again by boaters who dock at the North Shore Beach & Yacht
There’s an unmistakable smell in the air. One that creeps into
the Coachella Valley during the hot, sticky days of summer. The
sulfuric odor typically shows up when the mercury and humidity
are high, and levels of hydrogen sulfide spike in the Salton
The solution lies in filling the sea with water. But what
source would produce enough water to cover the lakebed (playa)
years into future years? Where would we get such huge
quantities of fresh or salt water? There is but one realistic
source: the Sea of Cortez.
Water managers on the Colorado River are facing a unique
moment. With a temporary fix to the river’s scarcity problem
recently completed, talk has begun to turn toward future
agreements to manage the water source for 40 million people in
the southwestern U.S. … Some within the basin see a window of
opportunity to argue for big, bold actions to find balance in
The state drought plans move gingerly toward encouraging
transfers of water by using clever euphemisms that avoid any
mention of water marketing. … These euphemisms are tools that
usher in a new frontier in western water law that will increase
resilience in the face of droughts, floods and forest fires
fueled by climate change.
From sea to shining sea may take on a new meaning in
California, as state officials are reviewing billion dollar
plans to import water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to help raise
water levels at the Salton Sea.
Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River
have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing
amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands.
But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the
Steve Frattini, mayor of Herrin, Ill., went to a water
conference a few years ago in California amid a severe drought.
So he started working on a plan to send water to the area. The
water is from the city’s wastewater treatment plant … The
Wastewater Treatment Plant has a rail line nearby that would be
used to transport the water… Initially, Frattini said the
water would go to the area near the Salton Sea in southern
California, a sea that’s been drying up for years.
I ran down a quick summary this morning of the relevant data,
comparing recent use with the cuts mandated under the DCP. It
shows that, at this first tier of shortage, permitted use is
less than the voluntary cuts water users have been making since
2015. In other words, all of the states are already
using less water than contemplated in this first tier of DCP
The Colorado River — of which the Green is the biggest
tributary — is the main water source for 40 million people.
It’s already overallocated, and climate change is predicted to
shrink flows by up to 50 percent by the end of the century.
We’re finally coming to grips with those forecasts and
beginning to heed Powell’s century-and-a-half-old warnings. But
it’s taken drought and desperation to get us there, and we have
to do better.
After months of tense, difficult negotiations, a plan to spread
the effects of anticipated cutbacks on the drought-stricken
Colorado River is nearing completion. On Monday,
representatives of the seven states that rely on the river will
gather for a formal signing ceremony at Hoover Dam, the real
and symbolic center of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
Many have gazed across its shimmering expanse and seen an idea
just as big to fix it. … So far, with the exception of
geothermal energy, none have seen the light of day.
But with new interest in Sacramento, the rough
outlines of immediate, medium range and long-term plans to
protect public health and restore wildlife are taking shape.
It takes more than one wet year to not only refill reservoirs
but also recharge aquifers and return moisture in parched soils
to normal levels. … All this upstream snowpack and rain is
predicted to boost Powell to 47% of capacity by the end of the
year, another three or four feet, but there’ll still be plenty
of the “bathtub ring” visible. It’s been 36 years since Powell
was full. It’s not likely it’ll ever fill again.
This river provides water for one-third of Latinos in the
United States. Latinos make up the bulk of agricultural workers
harvesting the produce this river waters. We boat, fish, swim
and recreate along its banks. We hold baptisms in its waters.
Therefore, it is critical to engage the growing Latino
population on water-smart solutions.
The DCP … provides assurance against curtailments for water
stored behind Hoover Dam. This is especially important for the
Southern California water agencies, whose ability to store
water in Lake Mead is crucial for managing seasonal demands.
Some significant challenges must still be addressed, however.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could
provoke conflict. … But as the time for crafting a new set of
rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result will
be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.
The Imperial Irrigation District board of directors voted
Tuesday to allow access across its lands for critically needed
state wetlands projects at the Salton Sea, designed to tamp
down dangerous dust storms and give threatened wildlife a
boost. In exchange, California will shoulder the maintenance
and operations of the projects, and the state’s taxpayers will
cover the costs of any lawsuits or regulatory penalties…
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the snowpack in the
Upper Basin is nearly 140% above average as of April 15 and it
forecasts that seasonal inflow to Lake Powell will be at 128%
of average. … “These developments may lessen the chance of
shortage in 2020,” Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado regional
director, said in a prepared statement.
The giant reservoir, formed by Glen Canyon Dam, was under 40
percent full the last week of April. And a lot of water is
still being released from the reservoir, more demands on the
water are expected, and the water supply above the reservoir,
in the sprawling Colorado River system, is expected to
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multi‐year drought, were designed to prevent disputes that
could provoke conflict. But as the time for crafting a new set
of rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result
will be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
DCP puts safeguards in place to help manage water use now and
better deal with a potential shortage. Utah, Arizona and the
five other Colorado River basin states wisely chose to include
conservation measures in the DCP — and shared in their
sacrifice to avoid costly litigation and imposed cuts. Congress
and the states should be commended for this bipartisan,
“3.1 million acre-feet of the (Imperial) Valley’s entitlement
to Colorado River water is now up for grabs in Sacramento and
it ought to concern all of us,” IID Board President Erik Ortega
said Tuesday afternoon in El Centro. “That’s why I’m calling
today for the general manager to bring back to this board a
plan for the divestment of IID’s energy assets in the Coachella
Some lawyers say the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, may be
built on shaky legal ground and could be vulnerable to
litigation — depending on how the Bureau of Reclamation
implements it. One California water district has already sued
to block it.
Imperial Irrigation District general manager Henry Martinez and
California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot have
reached an agreement in principle that the state will be
responsible for construction and maintenance of more than 3,700
acres of wetlands aimed at controlling toxic dust and restoring
wildlife habitat. In exchange, the water district will sign
easements for access onto lands it owns that border
California’s largest lake.
A new report paints a grim future for birds that rely on the
Salton Sea habitat. Audubon California-released
report uses bird-monitoring data from several different
sources to show just how the destruction of the Salton Sea
ecological habitat has decimated the populations of both
pelicans and cormorants endemic to the area.
One of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first actions after
taking office was to appoint Wade Crowfoot as Natural Resources
Agency secretary. Then the governor laid out an ambitious
water agenda that Crowfoot is now charged with
executing. In a Western Water Q&A, Crowfoot
discussed what he expects to tackle, including scaling
back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
and finding ways to make California more resilient to the
extremes of drought and flood that are expected to come with
One of California Gov. Gavin
Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade
Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within
weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that
Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.
That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach”
on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San
Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded
floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.
In court, the California Environmental Quality Act is a
familiar obstacle to projects large and small — housing
developments, solar projects, even bike lanes. It’s also lately
become a weapon in the state’s major water conflicts.
Arizona’s top water official says a lawsuit filed Tuesday by
California’s Imperial Irrigation District could pose a threat
to the newly approved multistate drought contingency plan. But
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Department of Water Resources,
said he’s not worried the plan will fall apart — at least not
The Colorado River Sustainability Campaign has been an
important behind-the-scenes player for environmentalists
working on the waterway, which provides water to 40 million
people. … When asked who funds his project, Sam Tucker listed
five foundations. Those foundations’ grant databases showed
that his campaign has received at least $8.6 million since
2016. … Almost half — $4 million — of the campaign’s money
came from one source: the Walton Family Foundation. (Second of
Should the state of California honor a commitment made in 2003
to restore the Salton Sea, despite moving water away from the
area to thirsty coastal cities? Or should this artificial,
long-festering sea be left alone to dry up entirely? While
politicians have dithered, Bombay Beach’s atmospheric decay has
drawn filmmakers, novelists and other artists who marvel at the
thriving community hidden inside seemingly derelict properties.
There are at least six high-profile projects in Utah, Colorado,
and Wyoming that combined could divert more than 300,000
acre-feet of water from the beleaguered Colorado River. That’s
the equivalent of Nevada’s entire allocation from the river.
These projects are in different stages of permitting and
funding, but are moving ahead even as headlines about the
river’s dwindling supply dominate the news.
An unlikely advocate seems to be around every bend of the
Colorado River these days: the Walton Family Foundation. The
$3.65 billion organization launched by Walmart founder Sam
Walton has become ubiquitous in the seven-state basin that
provides water to 40 million people, dishing out $100 million
in grants in the last five years alone. … The foundation’s
reach is dizzying and, outside the basin, has received scant
attention. (First of two parts.)
The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court,
alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality
Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,
and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and
Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to
suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a
thorough environmental analysis has been completed.
President Donald Trump signed a bill Tuesday authorizing a plan
for Western states to take less water from the overburdened
Colorado River. The president’s signing capped a years-long
process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven
states that rely on the river. … Next, representatives from
Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a
hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal
Here’s something worth celebrating: In a rare bipartisan
resolve to prevent a water crisis in the Southwest, Congress
has authorized a plan to reduce consumption from the Colorado
River – a major conservation milestone. It shows that when we
work together as Americans, we can address some of the biggest
challenges facing our nation today.
Congress passed an historic Colorado River drought deal on
Monday, which is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for
his signature. That leaves Arizona back to wrestling with water
issues that it mostly set aside during the two years it fixated
on the negotiations for the Colorado River deal.
Massive fish-die offs. Dead birds. A toxic stench. Bryan Mendez
and Olivia Rodriguez are dissatisfied that those sad facts are
the only things most Californians ever hear about the Salton
Sea, one of the largest inland seas in the world.
At its core, the ill-advised attempt to “restore” the Salton
Sea is nothing short of environmental malpractice. It will
inevitably fail at a very high cost to both wildlife and
taxpayers, succeeding only in perpetuating a hazardous
Responding to congressional approval of a Southwestern drought
pact, officials from the Imperial Irrigation District said
Tuesday the Salton Sea is the untested plan’s “first casualty.”
… IID had refused to sign the plan because it wanted a “firm
commitment” of more than $400 million in state and federal
funds to resolve environmental issues at the Salton Sea.
Hot weather is on its way, and with it, potentially toxic
bacteria could bloom rapidly in California’s largest lake, the
Salton Sea, and other waters on the receiving end of runoff
from farms and golf courses or sewage spills. With temperatures
across the desert expected to climb high into the 90s by
Monday, experts say telltale signs will quickly appear.
Two members of Arizona’s congressional delegation introduced
legislation Tuesday on a plan to address a shrinking supply of
water from a river that serves 40 million people in the U.S.
West. Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Raul
Grijalva vowed to move identical bills quickly through the
chambers. Bipartisan lawmakers from Colorado River basin states
signed on as co-sponsors.
The use of public art to bring about social change created the
interactive art event called the “Bombay Beach Biennale” on the
shores of the Salton Sea. Organizers hope to bring attention to
the long-ignored environmental issue facing the region, once
one of the premier tourist destinations in Southern California.
Excluded from a Southwestern drought pact, the Imperial
Irrigation District won a small victory on Tuesday when federal
legislators included protections for the Salton Sea that were
left out of previous drafts of the agreement.
Decay festers all around at the Salton Sea, the vast inland
lake in Southern California that once hosted beauty pageants
and boat races in its tourist heyday. … But new life is
moving into the breach. At Bombay Beach, artists drawn by the
cheap prices and surreal setting have been snapping up lots and
crumbling buildings as gallery spaces.
The March 26 opinion piece by Tom Buschatzke and 13 other
Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan proponents to persuade
the public that the DCP is good for the Salton Sea would have
been better served – and made more believable – by a show of
good faith rather than a show of force.
A plan to divvy up cutbacks to Colorado River water in times of
shortage has passed its first two tests in Congress. On
Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency
Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who
crafted it. Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate
subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both
chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would
allow the federal government to carry out the plan.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally vowed Wednesday to take quick action
on a plan to preserve the drought-stricken Colorado River,
which serves about 40 million people in the U.S. West and
Mexico. … The plans that have been in the works for years got
a first congressional hearing Wednesday before a subcommittee
that McSally chairs. The Arizona Republican said she’ll
introduce a bill soon and expects strong support.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has
left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea,
California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the
case. … The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on
to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if
they change their minds. But with or without IID’s
participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton
The agreement represents the first multistate effort in
more than a decade to readjust the collective rules for
dealing with potential shortages. … But even as the drought
agreement has earned widespread praise as a historic step
toward propping up the river’s reservoirs, Arizona’s plan for
implementing the deal has also drawn criticism for relying on a
strategy that some argue has significant drawbacks.
On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, veteran
environmental journalist Jim Robbins joins us to talk about his
in-depth series headlined, “The West’s Great River Hits Its
Limits: Will the Colorado Run Dry?”
I introduced AB 854 because the board of directors of IID, one
of California’s most powerful municipal utilities, operates
without representation from Riverside County ratepayers who
make up 60 percent of their service territory. Moreover,
according to The Desert Sun, Riverside County ratepayers
provide IID with the majority of its revenue yet have no voice
on how their municipal utility is managed.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman commended
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and
Wyoming for reaching a consensus on the Colorado River drought
contingency plan. Now the states are seeking approval from
Congress to implement it.
The Colorado River Basin was already running near empty before
the Trump administration approved a new deal allowing
additional extractions from one of its main tributaries. While
the administration found the deal would not have a significant
impact on the environment surrounding the river, a collection
of environmental groups say in a new federal lawsuit that it
will further deplete the river basin’s supply…
What image comes to mind when you think of Lake Mead? For most,
it’s likely the infamous “bathtub ring,” a troubling sign of
the depleted water supply in this life-sustaining reservoir.
But while this is one of the most frequently deployed images
associated with the decades long “drought” in the West, do we
really see it? Does it make an impact that’s strong enough to
shift our perceptions and motivate us to alter our personal
In the coming days, Congress will begin committee hearings on
unusually concise, 139-word legislation that would allow the
secretary of the interior to implement the Colorado River
Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP. … This agreement marks a
watershed moment in building our country’s resilience to
SDSU researchers examine the effects of shrinking water
supplies in the Imperial-Mexicali Valley: The problems there
are as old as the urbanization of Southern California:
insufficient water to meet community demands and ecosystem
needs. The solutions, which could figure into future
policy-making, are both increasingly high-tech and surprisingly
There can be no more excuses for federal inaction. Yet
shockingly I have learned from recent investigative reporting
that the Trump administration is now pushing federal
legislation that would eliminate public health and
environmental protections for the Salton Sea and beyond as part
of a federal drought plan for the Colorado River.
Another group of top state officials visited the Salton Sea
this week to promise that this time, things will be different
and progress will be made to restore the fast-drying water
body. … Newly appointed water board chairman E. Joaquin
Esquivel, who grew up in nearby La Quinta and fished in the
lake as a boy, said he shares residents’ and longtime
experts’ frustrations, and feels personally accountable to
family members who still live in the area, as well as the
communities around the lake.
Residents and officials who packed a yacht club on the north
shore of the Salton Sea on Tuesday vented their anger about
what they perceive as unnecessary delays and obfuscations about
the environmental and public health disaster unfolding here.
The California Water Resources Control Board held the workshop
at the North Shore Yacht and Beach Club to both inform the
public and garner opinions of residents living in proximity to
the sea, which is rapidly vanishing into the desert.
Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement
to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to
Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal.
The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs
that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay
the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s
On Tuesday, March 19, the California Water Resources Control
Board will hold a session on the North Shore to hear from state
officials about their progress addressing the many issues
related to the Salton Sea. This is a good opportunity for these
officials to break through the remaining obstacles to progress
at the Salton Sea and find a productive way forward.
It’s done. The Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1-1
Monday to sign on to a multi-state drought contingency plan,
which, somewhat ironically, might not be needed for two years
because of an exceptionally wet winter. The Imperial Irrigation
District, a sprawling rural water district in the southeastern
corner of California, refused to sign on until the federal
government pledged to provide $200 million to clean up the
Salton Sea, which has not occurred.
For the moment, Mother Nature is smiling on the Colorado River.
Enough snow has piled up in the mountains that feed the river
to stave off a dreaded shortage declaration for one more year,
according to federal projections released Friday afternoon.
Climate change is having a profound effect on the millions of
migrating birds that rely on annual stops along the Pacific
Flyway as they head from Alaska to Patagonia each year. They
are finding less food, saltier water and fewer places to breed
and rest on their long journeys, according to a new paper in
Nature’s Scientific Reports.
If, as being widely reported, the Colorado River basin states
… ultimately decide to proceed with a Lower Colorado River
Basin Drought Contingency Plan that cuts out the Imperial
Irrigation District (IID), no one should be surprised. It’s
simply continuing a long, and perhaps successful, tradition of
basin governance by running over the “miscreant(s)”.
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a
massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the
eleventh hour. IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan
from proceeding, and its board president called the latest
development a violation of California environmental law.
But Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
others in a working group are finalizing new documents to
remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an
important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The
remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a
management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is
two years overdue and still months away from completion. The
Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating
faster than it’s being replaced…
For the bulk of her career, Jayne
Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the
management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was
appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the
United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees
myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to
sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado
River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other
rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be
named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and
Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the
commission’s 129-year history.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark
Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder
more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead
from falling to dangerously low levels. With California signed
on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the
multi-state agreement before it takes effect. The MWD board
took the step over the objections of the Imperial
Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest
allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
The sandy playa that used to be underwater is now being baked
by the sun and blown around by the winds that frequently scour
the desert floor here. The dust is tiny and can easily get
airborne. That is a public health crisis for a region already
suffering from some of California’s highest asthma rates.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go
there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around
the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and
that’s changing bird populations.
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a special
board meeting late Friday that the federal Bureau of
Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought
contingency plan package include restoration of the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of
support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill
funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea, which
is California’s largest inland water body.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
Explore the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
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We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
The strategy of turning to groundwater pumping will
test the limits of Arizona’s regulatory system for its desert
aquifers, which targets some areas for pumping
restrictions and leaves others with looser rules or no
regulation at all. In Pinal County, which falls under
these groundwater rules, the return to a total reliance on
wells reflects a major turning point and raises the possibility
that this part of Arizona could again sink into a pattern
of falling groundwater levels — just as it did decades
ago, before the arrival of Colorado River water.
It’s all up to the Imperial Irrigation District. The fate of a
seven-state plan to address dwindling Colorado River water
supply now appears to rest squarely with the sprawling
southeastern California water district. Its neighbor to the
north, the Coachella Valley Water District, voted unanimously
on Tuesday to approve interstate agreements that would conserve
water for use by 40 million people and vast swaths of
Ominous predictions about the desert lake’s ecological
collapse are beginning to occur. You can see this sea
up close during our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1,
when we will visit the fragile ecosystem and hear from several
stakeholders working to address challenges facing the sea.
The Imperial Irrigation District holds among the oldest and
largest rights to water from the Colorado River and is using
that as leverage to get what it sees as a better deal in
current drought contingency plan negotiations involving states
that draw from the river. Among the hardball tactics IID
is putting in play: A demand that the federal government
provide $200 million for efforts to bolster the beleaguered
Arizona and California aren’t done finishing a plan that would
establish how states in the Colorado River Basin will ensure
water for millions of people in the Southwest, said the head of
the agency running the negotiations. … One challenge
comes from the Imperial Irrigation District, a water utility
that serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. It
hasn’t signed California’s plan because it wants $200 million
to restore the vanishing Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake.
A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans. The
path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken region
now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
Did the goalposts just move on us? … Media reports suggest
that Reclamation is lumping Arizona with California, which
clearly did not meet the deadline, in its reasoning for taking
an action that we had all hoped to avoid. It’s easy to feel
betrayed by that, to conclude that Arizona was asked to move
mountains and then when we did, we were told it still wasn’t
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, Feb. 27-March 1, we will
visit this fragile ecosystem that harbors 400 bird species and
hear from several stakeholders working to address challenges
facing the sea, including managers of the Imperial Irrigation
District, the Salton Sea Authority and California’s appointed
“Sea Czar,” assistant secretary on Salton Sea policy Bruce
More than 1,000 birds died at a lake in Southern California
earlier this month, state wildlife officials announced Tuesday.
The birds – primarily migratory water fowls such as Ruddy
Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Black-necked Stilts and Gulls – died
at the Salton Sea after contracting a contagious bacterial
disease known as avian cholera
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought,
the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its
diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must
confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water
may be cut off.
Gov. Doug Ducey will use his fifth State of the State speech
Monday, Jan. 14, to try to corral the votes to approve a
drought-contingency plan in the next 17 days or risk federal
intervention. “We’re in a position now where we have a sense of
urgency and focus on Arizona’s water situation,” the governor
told the business community Friday in previewing the speech
that kicks off the legislative session.
President Trump on Thursday signed the 2018 Farm Bill,
which alters language in agricultural conservation
programs to make the Salton Sea eligible for millions in new
federal funding. … The bill’s inclusion of the Salton
Sea could also nudge California closer to approving a
Colorado River drought contingency plan.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which holds some of the
oldest and largest rights to Colorado River water, on Monday
tentatively agreed to a one-time contribution of up to 250,000
acre-feet of surplus water if needed to stave off shortages in
Lake Mead. But they tacked on several last-minute conditions
aimed at easing farmers’ fears of permanently losing water, and
to force federal and state officials to guarantee funding for
clean-up of the Salton Sea.
The Río Nuevo flows north from Mexico into the United States,
passing through a gap in the border fence. The murky
green water reeks of sewage and carries soapsuds, pieces of
trash and a load of toxic chemicals from Mexicali, a city
filled with factories that manufacture products from
electronics to auto parts.
Four Salton Sea-area residents, all younger than 30, were
united in their mission: Produce a documentary for and about
their community, which has been devastated by
environmental issues. As the Salton Sea in the east
Coachella Valley continues to shrink, toxic dust and and
other airborne issues continue to affect those in the
The San Andreas fault begins its dangerous dance through
California at the Salton Sea, at a spot that seismologists long
have feared could be the epicenter of a massive earthquake. …
A muddy spring mysteriously has begun to move at a faster pace
through dry earth — first 60 feet over a few months, and then
60 feet in a single day, according to Imperial County
Riverside County is moving forward with a Salton Sea
restoration plan that officials say could generate more than
$1 billion in tax revenue, which would help fund
construction of a permanent, horseshoe-shaped lake at the
north end of the dying sea.
Oct. 10 marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the
Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). The QSA created the
nation’s largest transfer of water from agriculture to cities,
building resilience and buffering Southern California from the
impacts of the state’s recent drought while decreasing
California’s reliance on the increasingly stressed Colorado
Once considered pipe dreams, the concept of saving the Salton
Sea by tapping ocean water from Mexico, to keep the accidental
salt lake from drying up, will get an official consideration at
two meetings in the desert this week.
In November 2015, there was a rare celebration at the Salton
Sea. More than 100 people gathered on a dry stretch of dirt at
Red Hill Bay, where the lake’s shoreline
was receding quickly. They were there to break ground
on the Salton Sea’s first major restoration project, which
would create hundreds of acres of habitat for migratory birds
and help keep lung-damaging dust out of the air.
Frank Ruiz sees fewer birds at the Salton Sea these days.
As salinity levels climb and kill fish in the giant but
receding Coachella Valley lake, there are fewer white
pelicans, brown pelicans and cormorants to be found, said
Ruiz, the Salton Sea program director for Audubon California.
“We’ve also seen a huge decline in other species like eared
grebes,” he said.
With 10 days left for California lawmakers to pass bills this
year, renewable energy companies are rallying around
legislation that could jump-start geothermal energy development
by the Salton Sea — and also give a boost to solar, wind
The Comite Civico del Valle, an organization providing services
to disadvantaged communities in the Imperial Valley, has
received a $500,000 grant from the California Air Resource
Board to expand its air monitoring program. With the grant, the
organization is planning to expand their network of air
monitors to the eastern Coachella Valley by adding 15 new
monitors, in an effort to span the entirety of the Salton Sea
Air Basin, which includes the Coachella Valley and parts of
Driving South on California Highway 86 along the Salton Sea’s
barren, white shores, travelers are tempted to imagine
themselves on another planet. The surreal vista of the Santa
Rosa mountains, looming over the deep blue lake, its beaches
gleaming like snow and surrounded by desert, all of it invites
Californians approved the $4.1 billion bond
measure Proposition 68 on Tuesday, giving a boost to
California’s long-delayed and underfunded effort to build
thousands of acres of wetlands around the shrinking Salton
The Salton Sea is steadily disappearing, and communities near
it are literally being left in the dust. California’s largest
body of water — located in Imperial County near the Mexico-U.S.
border — has been sinking for years, and dust clouds containing
heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and fine particulates
connected to asthma and other diseases are harming young people
in that area.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia watched with ill-disguised
frustration as a hearing aimed at expediting state projects to
restore habitat and control dust storms at the shrinking Salton
Sea instead dissolved into discussion of why the efforts were
falling further behind schedule. “We have a plan, we have
money, there is additional money lined up, and we have a
constituency — myself included — that is running out of
patience,” Garcia (D-Coachella), chairman of the Assembly
Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, said.
California leaders who represent the shrinking Salton Sea want
the same kind of expedited action taken on restoring it as the
Oroville spillway crisis had in 2017. … Assemblyman Eduardo
Garcia questioned the agencies in charge of the project Tuesday
at an oversight hearing over why it’s behind schedule.
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom visited the Salton Sea on
Thursday to witness up close the environmental and public
health perils facing the communities surrounding the sea’s
shrinking shoreline. … Newsom was in town because he
sits on the California State Lands Commission, which met in
Palm Springs later in the day.
Less than fifteen miles from where Beyonce took the stage
at the Coachella Music Festival, the Salton Sea is in crisis.
As evaporation causes the sea’s shoreline to recede, more of
the toxic chemical matter previously embedded in the water
is being exposed and swept up into the atmosphere by desert
We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop
of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad
sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in
the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin
states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this
water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial
needs was the focus of this tour.
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California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.
Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.
A year ago, California’s Natural Resources Agency issued a plan
for the Salton Sea. That $383-million blueprint called for
building thousands of acres of wetlands to control dust and
revitalize the deteriorating habitats around the shrinking lake
over the next 10 years.
The Salton Sea’s accelerating decline comes at the same time
that water scarcity in the entire Colorado River Basin is
fueling negotiations over the river’s future — and how much
water agencies, cities and farmers will have to cut back if the
southwest’s 18-year drought continues. Those negotiations are
part of a process to create a new agreement called the Drought
Three and a half hours east of Los Angeles lies the Salton Sea,
a manmade oasis in the heart of the Mojave Desert. … The Sea
became a tourist hotspot in the 1950’s, perfect for swimming,
boating, and kayaking. But now, people are coming here looking
for something else.
Tickets are now on sale for the Water Education Foundation’s April 11-13 tour of the Lower Colorado River.
Don’t miss this opportunity to visit key sites along one of the nation’s most famous rivers, including a private tour of Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project’s Mark Wilmer pumping plant and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The tour also visits the Salton Sea, Slab City, the All-American Canal and farming regions in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.
Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez on Thursday
proposed a $400 million plan to build a horseshoe-shaped lake
on the north side of the Salton Sea — and to pay for it using a
tax district and a new bond issue subject to voter
approval. The proposal calls for a 4,200-acre lake, roughly
double the size of Big Bear Lake.
Riverside County officials on Thursday unveiled a possible
$400-million remedy for some of what ails the shrinking Salton
Sea: record-high salinity levels, die-offs of fish, fewer birds
and an immense “bathtub ring” of smelly playa prone to toxic
Southern California’s Salton Sea, the largest lake in
California, has seen its share of ups and downs since it was
accidentally created in 1905 by Colorado River floodwaters.
Now, already badly polluted by chemicals from agricultural
irrigation runoff, which provides the lake’s inflow, the
surrounding shoreline is in danger of becoming a toxic blight.
The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly.
A 2003 water transfer deal called for the Imperial Irrigation
District to deliver “mitigation water” to the lake for 15
years. With those water deliveries ending in the final days of
2017, the lake’s decline will begin to accelerate.
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges
facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent
drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water
managers and others are trying to face the future.
The Coachella Valley’s biggest water district recycles
wastewater at three of its six sewage treatment plants,
churning out water to irrigate golf courses, parks and lawns at
housing developments. Now it’s proposing to reuse more water by
converting a sewage plant in Thermal to a water-recycling
In a mere seven weeks, hundreds of thousands of California
residents will face a major deadline affecting the health of
their families and their communities. On Dec. 31, water
deliveries that have been staving off ecological disaster at
the Salton Sea for 15 years will come to a halt, leaving an
uncertain future for the entire region.
This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River
where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand
is growing from myriad sources — increasing population,
declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in
the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin
states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this
water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial
needs is the focus of this tour.
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As the Salton Sea shrinks, California’s problems grow. …
For decades the state and stakeholders have contemplated plans
for the restoration and management of the lake. Significant
progress was made on November 7 when the State Water Resources
Control Board (SWRCB) accepted an agreement on a
10-year management plan.
California’s Water Resources Control Board described its new
Salton Sea plan as a landmark agreement, but at least one
expert is questioning the modified approach, calling it
“Band-Aids to a very serious environmental disaster.” With
water deliveries from the Colorado River coming to a halt at
the end of this year, the shrinking lake will be reduced at an
even faster rate, which the state says poses a public health
risk due to particulate air pollution by dust blown from the
exposed lake bed.
California’s top water regulators adopted an agreement that
commits the state to following through on plans of building
wetlands and controlling dust around the shrinking Salton Sea
over the next 10 years. The order approved Tuesday by the
State Water Resources Control Board sets targets for state
agencies in building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and
other dust-control projects around the lake.
California regulators on Tuesday approved a plan to spend
nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinking of the
state’s largest lake, a vital migratory stop for birds and a
buffer against swirling dust in farming towns. Funding for the
Salton Sea is unclear but the plan enjoyed support of major
water agencies and environmental advocacy groups and preserves
a fragile peace among urban and rural areas in California on
distributing the state’s share of Colorado River water.
Earlier this month, a proposed bond measure in the California
Legislature had included $280 million to pay for building
thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control
projects around the Salton Sea. This week, after negotiations
among lawmakers, the amount earmarked for the Salton Sea was
slashed to $200 million.
As state lawmakers debate far-reaching bills that could reshape
the energy landscape in California and across the West,
some groups are urging the Legislature to require new
geothermal power plants at the Salton Sea before a key deadline
Tuesday* night — but those groups can’t agree on what the
geothermal mandate should look like.
Architects of the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer
in the nation’s history Thursday gave their blessing to the
State Water Resources Control Board’s latest plan to aid the
beleaguered Salton Sea. “We think the draft stipulated order is
a good faith effort by multiple agencies to thoughtfully
balance competing considerations in determining how to best
implement a successful Salton Sea restoration strategy,” said
Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County
Water Authority during the State Water Board Salton Sea
workshop in Sacramento.
With less than four months left until a critical deadline when
the Salton Sea will begin to shrink rapidly, residents
and activists are pressing for California officials to
secure funding and act quickly to avert a costly disaster. Some
people who live around the lake are driving to Sacramento for a
Thursday meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board …
Five months ago, California outlined a $383 million plan to
control dust and build thousands of acres of wetlands around
the shrinking Salton Sea. But that plan left agencies in
the Imperial Valley unsatisfied because only $80.5 million has
been approved so far – and they questioned whether the state
would follow through and live up to its commitments over
the next 10 years.
It’s been 14 years since California officials first
approved the Black Rock power plant, which would have tapped a
powerful geothermal reservoir along the shore of the
Salton Sea and generated enough climate-friendly electricity to
power about 200,000 homes.
The Imperial Irrigation District has been using its clout as
the agency with the biggest water entitlement along the
Colorado River to press for California officials to live up to
their commitment that they will keep the Salton Sea from
turning into an environmental disaster.
State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, says the state needs
millions more to help protect the [Salton Sea's] sensitive
ecosystem. A pair of measures advancing in the Legislature aim
to speed up state restoration efforts, and ask voters next year
to approve a $500 million general obligation bond to improve
environmental and air quality conditions.
The Salton Sea is a disaster in slow motion. For more than a
century, California’s largest lake has been sustained by
Colorado River water, which irrigates Imperial Valley farms and
drains into the lake. But the Salton Sea will start shrinking
rapidly at the end of this year, when increasing amounts of
river water will be diverted from farms to cities.
A serious asthma crisis is afflicting communities around the
Salton Sea. The southeastern corner of California has some of
the worst air pollution in the country, where dirt from
farmland and the open desert mixes with windblown clouds of
toxic dust rising from the Salton Sea’s receding shores.
A decade ago, Guy McCaskie would stand on the shore of the
Salton Sea and marvel at the vast masses of birds that
congregated on the water and flew overhead. Nowadays he looks
out over the lake and is saddened by how few birds he sees.
As California officials struggle to decide on long-term fixes
for the receding lake, there’s new momentum around an old idea:
importing seawater from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and using the
area’s plentiful geothermal power to desalinate that water. A
subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which
already operates 10 geothermal plants in the area, is
developing a seawater desalination proposal and has pitched it
to lawmakers in Sacramento.
California’s largest lake is drying up. The Salton Sea has been
shrinking for years, and fish and birds have been dying. The
dry lakebed already spews toxic dust into the air, threatening
a region with hundreds of thousands of people. And the crisis
is about to get much worse.
California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, is an accident. It
was created in 1905 when a levee broke on an irrigation canal,
flooding a giant desert playa. Today it has become a sticking
point in negotiations between three states over the future of
the Colorado River. … To help us understand all this,
Water Deeply recently spoke with Michael Cohen, a senior
research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water policy
think-tank based in Oakland.
Salton Sea advocates on Thursday cautiously celebrated the
announcement of a 10-year state plan to complete projects
designed to restore areas where migrating birds once
proliferated and control toxic dust storms rising off expanses
of smelly playa surrounding the shrinking salty lake.
After years of delays, California’s plans for the shrinking
Salton Sea are finally starting to take shape. A $383 million
plan released by the state’s Natural Resources Agency on
Thursday lays out a schedule for building thousands of acres of
ponds and wetlands that will cover up stretches of dusty
lakebed and create habitat for birds as the lake recedes.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Thursday
proposed spending nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the
shrinking of the state’s largest lake just as it is expected to
evaporate an accelerated pace.