Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

State Launches Salton Sea Restoration Effort

Receding shoreline at the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.
Kris Arciaga
Receding shoreline at the Salton Sea on Feb. 25, 2019.

California is poised to begin reshaping the southern edge of the Salton Sea. The receding lake has left behind a dry lakebed that is creating a public health crisis.

California is poised to begin the first major restoration project at the Salton Sea.

The state is investing more than $200 million in a project that will create flooded ponds and other habitats on the exposed lakebed at the southern edge of the lake.

“We’ll complete the work over the next two-and-a-half years, I believe completing the project in 2023,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency.

The Salton Sea has been shrinking rapidly and exposing a dusty lakebed since the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) stopped feeding the state’s largest lake mitigation water in 2018.

Video: State Launches Salton Sea Restoration Effort

RELATED: The Shrinking Salton Sea Endangers Region’s Health

There are fine particles in the lakebed that can easily be picked up by desert winds and are then breathed in by local residents.

“The notion of this shrinking sea and the emissive dust from the seabed is really alarming and concerning to local residents, and we understand that,” Crowfoot said. “And so, our focus is actually getting projects on the ground as quickly as possible that is going to limit the amount of dust coming up from the seabed.”

California committed to a multi-billion dollar restoration effort as part of their responsibility in the signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement. That agreement cleared the way for rural water agencies like the Imperial Irrigation District to sell water to cities.

The IID now sends a portion of its water allocation from the Colorado River to San Diego.

But that water deal also steered water away from the Salton Sea, which has resulted in unhealthy dust polluting the air.

RELATED: Fading Salton Sea Thirsting For Water

That is grim news for a region already suffering some of the state’s highest asthma rates.

The region is enduring a respiratory endemic, according to Luis Olmedo, of the community group Comite Civico Del Valle. They installed air quality monitors to understand the pollution that’s creating a public health crisis in the county.

The region already struggles with pollutants from farms, industry, and vehicles.

“When we talk about the Salton Sea, that’s an entirely new source (of pollution),” Olmedo said. “Every time we're peeling back every inch of that playa we’re exposing over 100 years of contaminated sediment.”

Olmedo said the state agreed to help keep the dust under control and he is happy the new project is underway.

“It is a best available control measure to do water habitats at the project, and that’s what the federal government requires,” Olmedo said.

RELATED: Imperial County Declares Emergency At Salton Sea

Eventually, California hopes to cover or change up to 40,000 acres of the exposed lakebed.

The state committed to spend $480 million during the first phase of the restoration project and has promised to spend hundreds of millions more for the full project.

State Launches Salton Sea Restoration Effort
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.