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The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region's Health

January 16, 2018 3:40 p.m.

The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region's Health

GUESTS:

Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Erik Anderson, environment reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region's Health

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> The Salton Sea is about to raise at a historical rate Eric Anderson has a look in the second of two reports.
>> Westshore's high school principal slips on a cowboy hat before stepping outside the it's as much passion as a response to the region's harsh desert sun the seas sits close to the Salton Sea sure. Is a firm hand for his students but he can't protect his students from the desert dust
>> And decline -- any time there is a wind, you see the dust cloud spirit
>> The Dustin those clouds contributes to the highest in the valley, asthma rates and its expected to get worse because the Salton Sea is shrinking, exposing thousands of gallons of the lakebed to toxic fumes. They are worried about the fine dust which comes because of the receding sea and there is concern there is -- this could become a public health disaster picks it up without intervention, I believe it is exactly
>> Reporter:
>> If you look over my shoulder, you can see a lot of exposed area and we should've had more of a handle on this since 2004 or 2005 it's a serious health crisis and economic crisis because of the dust and damaged crops and reduction of tourism for
>> California agreed to work on the Salton Sea restoration in 2003 when a massive management deal was reached but nothing happened until late last year when the state finally agreed to spend $80 million now and another $300 million in the next decade the final bill will likely top $1 billion.
>> We need a long-term, long-range funding source for this project. It's not going to be something that's five million dollars here in $5 million there
>> He says it's a start in that happened largely because empirical -- Imperial regulation district threatened to superior
>> It's a challenge when you are this far into things to turn the water on and off.'s lots of reasons not to do it but we have kids getting sick . or that's not to be tolerated. TheSonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, located on the southeast corner of the lake. The idea to rehabilitate Red Hill Bay is simple, create a shallow saltwater pond that traps the dust and provides habitat for wildlife. It is similar to the Duck ponds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service built and manages nearby.
>> Thisis about a five-acre pond, lined with cattails on the side. That gives you a good indication it a freshwater pond .
>>The planned 500-acre saltwater pond is nearby. The area used to be a vibrant refuge for birds and fish, but the shallow bay has completely dried out over the past decade. Getting a model up and running is a year behind schedule it. The pump getting the water from the Salton Sea will have to be on a barge so it can continue tapping the receding like. He remains optimistic because the region is so important to wildlife .
>> The Salton Sea, for much of its past and for the past 100 years, on a daily basis has provided food for over 200,000 birds every day . huge!
>> Keeping pace with the Salton Sea is ago but the state is already behind in reclamation work and deciding how much money to reinvest . 800 million -- $800 million is committed but the final cost to be well over $1 billion . currently that funding like the future of the Salton Sea remains uncertain it. Derek Anderson KPBS newspaper
>> Eric had more to say about his reporting on the Salton Sea so he spoke for the podcast series, San Diego series, the dive.
>> The Salton Sea is shrinking at an alarming pace and how did we get here? I assume the drought had something to do with it.
>> Actually no, the drought didn't . one thing about the Salton Sea is in its short lifespan it has both grown and shrunk before, as recently as 2000, the big issue for farmers was there was too much water by what happened in the meantime is a couple of things. Chief among them was this water deal that was signed among the Western water users who tap into the Colorado River, California among them, Imperial value -- Imperial Valley. This has been going on for almost a decade.

>>> As a result of that, lest water that normally would have gone into the Salton Sea has not gone there but it has started to shrink by when this was signed in 2003, one of the state of conditions at the Valley was saying was to not have negative environmental impacts and the state agreed to do that but didn't do anything for 15 years back in a 15 year time period, the interior Valley -- Imperial Valley basically block that water and put it directly into the Salton Sea to keep the level it. That stopped in January . they no longer put mitigation water into the Salton Sea picked that's a pretty picture of water by that's why does he will start to receive much faster now, this year , then it had in the previous years fixing that the state has committed mine to mitigate some of those problems. What are some of those?
>> They basically want to keep the water level high and pump it, build a berm which is an earthen dam which holds the water in, instead of it reaching up to the sea. You keep the water level at a certain level which presumably gives a habitat for birds and VCs -- fish species as well by most importantly, it keeps the dust from getting into the air by the problem is they only have enough money in the current plan to probably cover half of what they expect to be exposed over the next 25 years. Tina Shields of the Imperial irrigation District is looking into more. Scenic there's three types of projects, the basic no water use dust control projects, a shallow flooding in a species controversy and habitat which is the 4 to 6 feet deep water, that ought to be the fishery moving forward. Those of the Cadillac projects I- if everything gets back to schedule and the state starts actually doing all of these mitigation efforts, how much lakebed is going to be exposed in the next decade? To in the next 25 years, they estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 48,000 acres of lakebed will be exposed to the air. That's places where they are not growing any kind of plants. It's just dusty habitat. The state plan, if it is fully funded, which it is not now; a problem that the state is going to have to wrestle with for the next few years -- but if it is fully funded, they would only have enough money to cover 20,000 acres. What they are looking out in addition to that is filing some of the area and trying to figure out if there's a particular technique they can use to build little small, for Rose that would not allow the winds to . up that dust -- for Rose -- furrows that would not allow the winds to . up that dust by there was a plan at one point to make concentric lakes, a small island in the middle that was dry and then another one and then another one and a plan to put a dike there which was in a good idea because there's a lot of geographic ITV -- geographic activity by and then Westshore residents would like to see cutting a canal from the Gulf of Mexico to the Salton Sea, and letting the less salty ocean water fill up the see. That's complicated. That's a big project. That's hundreds of millions of dollars and you have to work with a foreign government to allow that to happen. Potentially, you could refill the Salton Sea that weigh.
>> Are we past the point of no return for the Salton Sea? This was an area that was frequented by a lot of people in the 50s and 60s by
>> It was Lake Tahoe S.
>> Is that so far gone that there was no going back?
>> It's like everything else in life, it's an area that is constantly in flock's by the rat pack in the 50s, that was cool and awesome and an image builder but now it's a different environment, not the same place . You doesn't have the same attributes. Is at the end of the Salton Sea? No, that's going to continue to be there, but it's taking a different path. I think the key is how people live around there and how the state of California deals with that change moving forward. It's recognition that it will probably never again be like it was in the 50s, but it is going to be something by I think the state needs to make something that it doesn't allow an ecological disaster become -- to become a public health disaster. There's a potential to really have negative impacts by then when you have a $40 billion medical problem to solve, suddenly a through billion-dollar -- eighth really billion-dollar -- three billion-dollar ecological issue doesn't seem to be a problem.
>> You can hear more of this conversation by subscribing at kpbs.org