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.
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.
This 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.
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
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.
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
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.
Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
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.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out a game plan for
averting serious water shortages along the Colorado River. …
Her announcement accompanied a separate accord in which the
Interior Department pledged to coordinate with California
officials to manage the shrinking Salton Sea …
Several months ago, managers of water agencies in California,
Arizona and Nevada were expressing optimism they could finalize
a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River
before the end of the Obama administration.
The California Wildlife Conservation Board has awarded $14
million for Salton Sea wetland habitat restoration to sustain
migrating birds and the fish they eat there, state officials
announced Thursday, Nov. 17.
The Imperial Irrigation District has given
California officials an ultimatum on the Salton Sea,
demanding the state finalize a 10-year “roadmap” for the
shrinking lake by the end of this year. The Imperial Valley
water district made the appeal this week, urging state
officials to uphold their responsibility to control dust and
protect public health as the lake recedes.
The project, which involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and the Imperial Irrigation District, is one of several initial
efforts underway to restore habitat and reduce windblown dust
as the Salton Sea shrinks. The lake is about to begin
It’s been about eight years since the Salton Sea was the
epicenter of a swarm of earthquakes, but the abundance of
temblors doesn’t necessarily indicate a larger one to
come, a renowned seismologist says.
California’s Salton Sea and state-straddling Lake Tahoe would
receive funding for environmental restoration under a bill set
for Senate approval Thursday. More controversial water-related
efforts remain stuck in Capitol Hill limbo, however.
When the Obama administration announced $30 million for
Salton Sea restoration last month, local officials
praised the federal government for finally starting
to address the deterioration of California’s largest
The Obama administration unveiled initiatives to help restore
the Salton Sea and improve the region’s climate resilience,
economy and public health as part of President Barack Obama’s
visit to Lake Tahoe Wednesday.
The federal government is stepping up its commitment to the
Salton Sea and exploring the possibility of buying
geothermal energy from the Imperial Valley, in a series of
moves that could help fund restoration projects at
California’s largest lake and maybe pave the way for a
multi-state agreement to use less Colorado River
An agreement by California to draw less water from the Colorado
River to help boost water levels at Lake Mead could accelerate
the shrinkage of the already precarious Salton Sea, endangering
air quality and wildlife habitat.
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the
University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said
the State Water Resources Control Board should step in and
regulate the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley
to coastal California as part of the Quantification Settlement
Agreement. Tim Bradley, speaking recently before the State
Water Board, said while there is “no question” about the right
of the water transfer, “the question is does the withdrawal of
water seriously affect the health of California?”
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the
University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said the
State Water Resources Control Board should step in and regulate
the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley to coastal
California as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement.
Sen. Barbara Boxer called for urgent steps to fix the problems
of the deteriorating Salton Sea, saying state and federal
agencies need to speed up efforts to control dust and protect
habitat as California’s largest lake declines.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called Thursday for local, state
and federal agencies to hurry up and restore the Salton Sea,
California’s largest lake. … Boxer made her comments after a
briefing from local, state and federal officials about efforts
to curb environmental damage from the steadily shrinking sea.
The briefing was closed to the press.
If you’ve noticed the Salton Sea seems to be stinking a bit
more often lately, you’re right. … The Salton Sea has also
been gradually declining, and some scientists expect the odors
to become more frequent in the coming years as the lake’s level
continues to drop.
The lack of small fish and the sudden declines of some bird
species at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge
could be signs that the lake’s overburdened ecosystem is
starting to unravel and deteriorate. … The lake is also
showing other symptoms of decay.
Assembly member Eduardo Garcia’s $3.1 billion bond proposal
includes $25 million for air quality mitigation and the
creation of wildlife habitat at the Salton Sea. The California
Natural Resources Agency, thanks to a previous bill carried by
Garcia, includes a list of shovel-ready projects on the
Observers often wax apocalyptic when talking about the Salton
Sea, and part of that narrative is the inevitable reminder that
this blight isn’t natural, that the sea only exists because the
Colorado River breached a man-made canal in 1905. But to
millions of birds, the Salton Sea’s creation was a godsend.
Because the Imperial Irrigation District holds the single
largest entitlement to water from the [Colorado] river, its
participation would be vital in any agreement for California to
share in water cutbacks to avert a looming shortage in Lake
Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. But major hurdles remain
for the district to support a potential deal, and the reasons
begin with the shrinking Salton Sea.
A major water resources bill introduced Tuesday in the Senate
would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to partner with
local governments and other agencies – not just California
officials – on projects to address the problems of the
shrinking Salton Sea.
Earth Day, celebrated today across the globe, reminds us of the
fragile state of our planet. From land contaminated with toxic
chemicals to bad air spewed into the atmosphere, the most of us
have been affected by pollution in some way. To bring all of
this closer to home, we’re listing the 10 most critical
environmental problems in Southern California.
For the first time in years the Salton Sea Recreation Area has
a public boat launch. The public-private partnership that built
the launch hope it brings more fishing, water skiing and
recreational boating to California’s largest lake, which has
been sinking and which scientists say is need of
Last Sunday, a U.S. businessman teamed up with an environmental
activist to organize an expedition from the Salton Sea to the
Laguna Salada. Their goal was to drum up support for a plan to
import water from Mexico to the Salton Sea.
Although there are some short- and medium-term fixes already in
the works, the job of saving the Salton Sea is a long-term
proposition – one that requires planning well into the
next decades. A group of local leaders – known as the
Long Range Plan Committee – has been assembled under the
auspices of the California Natural Resources Agency to
convene a series of meetings to listen to presentations that
address long-term solutions for the sea.
The federal government plans to spend $3 million this year
constructing a new wetland along the Alamo River in order to
rehabilitate habitats and help clean up some of the polluted
water flowing into the Salton Sea.
Planners working on the preservation of the Salton Sea envision
a smaller version surviving indefinitely, with some of the
costs for its maintenance recovered by economic development
which may include geothermal, the harvest of algae, or
something else, officials said during a conference at the UC
Gov. Jerry Brown’s $122.6 billion budget plan out Thursday
contained $80.5 million for the restoration of habitat at the
shrinking Salton Sea, the creation of a longterm plan for the
lake’s management, and is raising hopes for its restoration,
At least at the Salton Sea, the district’s [Imperial
Irrigation District] hardball tactics seem to be working:
There’s been more political progress this year than ever
before. Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for a plan of action, and
several long-stalled pilot projects are finally
The Salton Sea is just a few years away from becoming a massive
public health and environmental disaster. But if that bleak
future doesn’t come to pass, the Coachella and Imperial valleys
might look back at Nov. 5, 2015, as the day the tide started to
The California Natural Resources Agency will move forward with
the projects in the coming months and work with Colorado River
officials to accelerate planning, permitting and construction,
the governor’s office said.
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill to require the Salton
Sea Authority, working with the Natural Resources Agency, to
study projects to restore parts of the rapidly shrinking Salton
Sea, a huge and troubled body of water considered a health
Long gone are the luxury boats that drew stars inland from
Hollywood to this accidental sea that first filled with
Colorado River water after a massive 1905 canal
breach. … The Southwest’s worsening water shortage will make
saving the Salton Sea difficult, because any fix requires water
from an over-stressed Colorado River.
Community activists, politicians and water officials from the
Imperial and Coachella valleys went to the state water board in
Sacramento six months ago with a plea: Avoid a “looming
catastrophe” at the Salton Sea. … Two weeks ago, two top
officials from the Imperial Valley returned to the water board
to complain that virtually nothing has been done.
To save the Salton Sea, the Imperial Irrigation District might
want to let it dry up faster. That’s one of the recommendations
from California’s Little Hoover Commission, an independent
agency that investigates state government operations and makes
recommendations to the state Legislature.
Residents in the Coachella Valley are used to the seasonal
rotten-egg stench from the Salton Sea, but not for nine days in
a row. … In 2017, water to the sea will decrease greatly
when an agreement to transfer water from farms to San Diego
kicks into high gear.
Call it a first step. … The Imperial Irrigation District has
released a 260-page document that provides short, medium and
long-term plans to avert a health crises and spur the
development of up to 1,700 megawatts of new geothermal energy
at the Salton Sea.
The $3.15 billion would fund shovel-ready pilot projects and
new geothermal energy development around the Salton Sea,
California’s largest lake. The money would come from several
sources, including fees from companies that emit planet-warming
greenhouse gases and the $7.5 billion water bond that voters
approved in November.
The Imperial Irrigation District has filed an antitrust lawsuit
against the manager of most of the state’s electricity grid,
alleging that it is using its monopoly power to limit options
for the district, which is a major player in the effort to
mitigate the shrinking Salton Sea.
The shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of
California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline –
threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air
quality as dust from the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant
(Read this excerpt from the May/June 2015 issue along with
the editor’s note. Click here to
subscribe to Western Water and get full access.)
Six days, 116 miles: That is Randy Brown’s goal, starting
Tuesday, June 9. From June 9 to 14, the Rancho Cucamonga
website developer plans a grueling trek around the Salton Sea,
on the edge of the desert between Riverside and Imperial
Concern about the consequences of a shrinking Salton Sea began
almost as soon as the floodwaters of the mighty Colorado River
stopped pouring into the Salton Sink in 1907 — 16 months after
a breach in a canal inundated entire communities in the
Coachella and Imperial valleys and created an accidental lake
the size of Delaware.
As the historic drought drags on and Californians turn their
attention to using less water, the Salton Sea continues to
shrink — as do the chances of finding near-term solutions for
revitalizing the ailing lake.
Two new documentaries about California’s struggles with
dwindling water supplies will be shown back-to-back at the
American Documentary Film Festival this weekend, one focusing
on the state’s epic drought and the other examining the looming
environmental problems of the shrinking Salton Sea.
California officials said Wednesday that the drought-stricken
state set an unachievable bar to save the Salton Sea and
outlined small projects aimed at staving off the demise of the
state’s largest lake, disappointing farmers, environmentalists
After listening to seven hours of doomsday predictions, state
water officials agreed Wednesday to look at one of California’s
largest but often ignored environmental problems: the
deterioration of the Salton Sea.
On a whim, Blake Alexander traveled from his Los Angeles
apartment to the Salton Sea last May. It was the first time
after a four-year absence of visiting when he discovered what
had happened to one of the world’s largest lakes.
A new bill from Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia would hasten efforts
to clean up the New River, which flows from Mexico into the
Salton Sea and has long been known as one of America’s most
Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District announced
a settlement in a long-running legal battle Tuesday, ending 12
years of litigation over a water transfer deal and its effects
on the shrinking Salton Sea. The case stems from the 2003
Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA, the largest
agricultural-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history.
The Imperial Irrigation District is calling on all stakeholders
in the 2003 water transfer deal to come together to finally
find a solution to the piece of that puzzle that has remained
elusive ever since: the promised restoration of the Salton Sea.
The Imperial Irrigation District is pressing for the state to
take the lead in settling on a plan for the Salton Sea and
paying for it as a deadline nears in less than three years for
the lake’s decline to accelerate.
It’s hard to imagine that this quiet place once drew more
visitors than Yosemite National Park. Back then, the Salton Sea
was a boom town, rising out of the desert like a Las Vegas or a
Palm Springs. The American Riviera, as it was known, was full
of glamour and promise.
Imperial Valley water officials on Tuesday urged the state to
help “avert an emerging environmental and public health crisis
at the Salton Sea,” or otherwise consider restricting a massive
water transfer deal that benefits San Diego.
A new campaign is underway to promote the new Salton Sea
license plate, with the goal of registering at least 7,500
pre-sales by the end of next year. … Assemblyman Brian
Nestande, a Palm Desert Republican, sponsored the legislation
to create the plate. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law
The shrinking of the Salton Sea might pose a serious public
health hazard, but it could also boost renewable energy
development in the region, officials said Thursday at the
Southern California Energy Summit.
Michael Cohen has studied the problems of the shrinking Salton
Sea for years, and he says one of the biggest challenges is
that it’s hard for many people to envision the serious and
costly environmental disaster that could be unleashed by the
During a long congressional career from 1963 to 1999, the late
Congressman George E. Brown, Jr., called for solutions to the
Salton Sea’s growing problems and once raised the idea of
building a canal to connect the salty lake to the Sea of
The restoration of the Salton Sea received a boost with the
8,000-page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan released
Tuesday by the federal Department of Interior. … In an
interview, [U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell] said
that the real fix for the Salton Sea involves water.
State and federal officials said Tuesday they are moving ahead
with plans to build wetlands along portions of the dry
shorelines of the Salton Sea, aiming to preserve habitat for
fish and birds while also controlling dust.