January 13, 2020, Oakland, California — The California Salton Sea Management Program began construction this week on a project to restore bird and fish habitat at the southern end of the Salton Sea. The Species Conservation Habitat Project (SCH) will reduce wind-borne dust pollution on nearly 4,000 acres to the east and west of the New River delta, lessening dangerous dust pollution affecting nearby communities, while also creating habitat for birds and serving as a water-management pond for future projects in the area.
The SCH will be constructed on what is now exposed, dust-emitting lakebed, or playa. It will include several types of habitat areas to accommodate a variety of shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Mid- and deep-water areas will create relatively low-salinity habitat for fish preyed on by American White Pelicans and other fish-eating bird species. Water supply will come from an adjacent mixing basin that receives agricultural return flow water from the New River and saline water from the Salton Sea itself. The SCH will anchor Phase I of the state’s Salton Sea Management Program, which focuses on constructing wetlands and other projects to reduce exposed playa and health hazards posed by airborne dust across 30,000 acres, as well as serve as a model for creating various types of habitat in other parts of the lake. “We are hopeful this project is the beginning of a more expedient implementation of the SSMP,” said Silvia Paz, executive director with Alianza Coachella Valley.
“We applaud Governor Newsom’s administration and recognize the local leadership of Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, which has gotten us to this awaited point, to begin mitigating the negative impacts the drying Salton Sea has on nearby communities. We encourage our representatives to treat investments at the Salton Sea as opportunities to create multi-benefits that expand access to outdoor spaces as well as put our communities on our way to economic recovery after this devastating pandemic.”
“After years of false starts and delays, shovels have finally hit the ground and the Species Conservation Project is becoming a reality,” said Frank Ruiz, director of Audubon California’s Salton Sea Program. “As we enter our second year of a deadly pandemic during a tumultuous election season, that’s something to celebrate. We are simply out of time – if we allow the Sea to continue to decline, the health impacts on surrounding communities and the effect on the millions of migratory birds from Alaska to the Amazon will be catastrophic.”
“We commend the state’s leadership, staff and their contractor for starting to construct much-needed habitat and dust suppression projects at the Salton Sea,” said Michael Cohen, Research Associate at the Pacific Institute. “SCH will be a vital demonstration of state commitment and the value – to both people and wildlife – of investing in the Salton Sea.”
“Starting long-awaited construction on the Species Habitat Conservation project signals California leaders are finally taking responsibility for averting a major environmental and ecological crisis at the Salton Sea,” said Maurice Hall, associate vice president of Environmental Defense Fund’s Water Program. “We applaud the Newsom administration for making good on its commitment to stop making verbal promises and start taking action to get projects done that will improve conditions for people and wildlife around the state’s largest lake.”
“It is long overdue, but we are encouraged that the state is finally breaking ground on dust suppression and habitat restoration efforts at the Salton Sea,” said Brandon Dawson, policy advocate at the California Sierra Club. For too long, communities have suffered from polluted air and land quality loss created by the failure to clean up the Sea. In the middle of a pandemic and extinction crisis, the need for clean air, access to the outdoors, and healthy habitat has never been more important. The state must urgently tackle more restoration projects to protect local communities and public health.”
With an estimated surface area of 320 square miles, the Salton Sea is by far California’s largest lake, as well as a vital stop for migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway. Threatened by contaminated runoff and reduced inflow from changing water-usage patterns, the Sea is degrading rapidly, exposing airborne dust from the dry lakebed that endangers the health of the 650,000 residents who live in the immediate area.