Federal government makes largest investment in Salton Sea mitigation efforts yet
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, but it has been receding. As it dries up, the exposed lake bed creates dust that fills the air. Researchers from UC Riverside have found that the lake’s dust triggers lung inflammation and may have a role in the region's high asthma rates.
The state of California has invested hundreds of millions to restore habitats for plants and fish. This week $72 million in federal funding was announced to help that work.
"This is a really exciting announcement," said Samantha Arthur, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy with the California Natural Resources Agency. "We know that the Imperial Valley and eastern Coachella Valley have poor air quality and any worsening of that air quality is a problem — and that’s why it’s so important that we’re doing projects at the Salton Sea to address that."
Arthur said reducing the harmful dust was done in two ways. One is adding water to dried up lake beds, and the other involves habitat restoration.
"On the west and east sides of the Salton Sea, we’re actually planting native vegetation that grows up and basically functions as a windbreak to keep dust down," Arthur said.
Arthur said the federal funding complemented the work that the state is already doing. It is part of a larger agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the state and local water districts.
"The Bureau of Reclamation committed $250 million to that effort contingent upon local water agencies conserving Colorado River water to help stabilize that system," Arthur said. "So this first $70 million is a portion of that, and we’re excited to use it to expand our projects at the Salton Sea."
Federal, state and local leaders were in Imperial County Thursday to celebrate the investment.
"As we seek to stem the impacts of the drought crisis on wildlife, habitats and communities, historic investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda are helping to support the Imperial and Coachella Valley and the environment around the Salton Sea," said Laura Daniel-Davis, acting deputy secretary of the Interior.
Federal officials said the investment would speed up California's 10-year Salton Sea management plan.