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Hundreds of attendees came out to peruse the offerings of dozens of local authors at the Palm Springs Writers Guild's annual Desert Writers Expo.

The event—held at the Rancho Mirage Public Library on Wednesday, March 20—included about 42 authors who have penned books on topics ranging from "cyber thriller" to travel to past-life regression. 

The Independent stopped by and took a few snapshots of the event. Enjoy.

Published in Snapshot

The eastern portion of the Coachella Valley struggles with poverty, bad air and water quality, high unemployment, high levels of asthma, a receding Salton Sea, high levels of arsenic in well water, pesticide-spraying—and the list goes on. It’s a far cry from the bright lights that shine over the golf courses to the west.

However, residents are trying to do something about these problems, and an environmental justice movement is growing in the eastern Coachella Valley. As part of that movement, the inaugural Environmental Health Leadership Summit took place at Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School on Saturday, Feb. 23.

The summit was organized by Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto and the Comite Civico del Valle, and had more than 30 sponsors. The focus of the summit was to promote health and environmental awareness, leadership, systems change and cultural and linguistic competency.

Environmental health was the main topic—specifically air and water quality, public health and the Salton Sea restoration.

Information was distributed about ways people could help clean the air, asthma management in children, and cleaning products that are safe to use in the home. There were keynotes, speeches and workshops.

I participated in the summit as a vendor, where I displayed my photographs and my book, Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea. Other vendors and information providers included 350.org, Occupy Coachella, the county Economic Development Agency, Legacy of Clean cleaning products, California Rural Legal Assistance and Planned Parenthood. The high school sold drinks and food to raise money. It was great to see the different stallholders share the same vision of environmental health and equality.

I was also on a panel regarding Salton Sea restoration. It was my first time as a panelist.

We were on the stage hidden behind a curtain as Congressman Raul Ruiz was announcing us. Nervousness aside, it was an honor to voice my opinion and pass on what other members of the community had been passing on to me over the years.

Along with me were Doug Barnum, of the U.S. Geological Survey; Bruce Wilcox, of the Imperial Irrigation District; Paul Reisman, acting superintendent of the Salton Sea State Recreational Area; Jason Low, from the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and Phil Rosentrater of the Economic Development Agency. Jose Angel was the moderator, from the Regional Water Board.

After we each spoke, it was time for the questions from the moderator and the audience: What do we each think are the most pressing issues? What is the highest priority? If nothing is done, what is your biggest fear? What about the efforts to make a viable plan to restore the sea?

We spoke about how we need to prevent a toxic dust storm from becoming a reality; how we need to prevent another Big Stink; how we need to focus on health issues; and how it would be nice to have a thriving recreational area again, or at least a sea that will not turn into a toxic semi-dust bowl while emitting hydrogen sulfide burps that stink all the way to Los Angeles.

Barnum noted that there are many problems with restoration efforts, and one solution for one problem might be to the detriment of another. 

I mentioned that the focus has to be on “keeping the Salton Sea wet,” a quote from Norm Niver, a Salton Sea activist since 1974. There was mention of how geothermal, algae, solar, wind and other renewable-energy industries might be the key to finding the funding so essential to saving the sea. The Salton Sea area is second to none for potential renewable energy.

I spoke about the disconnect between the community and the agencies, and how there need to be more opportunities to work together.

This summit was a great start. Area residents often feel as if they do not have a voice. They have been complaining about health issues and high asthma rates for years, and have been fearing the demise of the Salton Sea for decades. So, to say that the residents are having a hard time trusting the local agencies is an understatement. The current representatives of these government agencies need to work really hard to earn back this trust.

A couple members of the audience shared this feeling of frustration and questioned the currently proposed restoration project. The project, as it stands, would start small, by building a few shallow water ponds at the southern end of the sea. This would keep those areas, which are already exposed playa, wet, and would serve as habitat for wildlife. As time goes on, and more funding comes in, further small-scale projects would be implemented.

In the meantime, the question remains: Where would the money will come from for a large-scale restoration project?

This is not good enough, said one member of the audience. What about a comprehensive plan? And how is it that after so many years, only a couple of small shallow water ponds are being built? How can we trust these agencies? Why is the community not being listened to? And why are there no answers? He spoke about the state oversight meeting on the day before, led in part by Coachella area state Assemblymember V. Manuel Perez, and how members of the public could come forward and voice their opinion—but they each had only a single minute to do so.

Not good enough.

My hope is that we can all work together. That the man in the audience gets the information he wants as to why the comprehensive plan will not be implemented. That there will be future summits like this one.

For more information on the summit, visit ejsummit.com. Organizers will add videos from workshops, keynotes and presentations in the coming weeks. There will also be updates on another summit, to be held in Imperial County, scheduled for the end of April 2013. Below: Fossil Fuel Not Cool is a campaign by Occupy Coachella and 350.org.

Published in Community Voices

In the spring of 2011, I concluded a portrait project photographing residents, visitors, workers, scientists, park rangers and environmentalists who work and/or live at the Salton Sea.

I interviewed them regarding their personal backgrounds, stories and hopes for the future of the Salton Sea—as well as their fears. They shared their stories and knowledge and gave the reader an idea of the cultural, historical, environmental and natural aspects of this area.

This became a book, which was published in September 2012 by Salton Sink Press, entitled Portraits and Voices of the Salton Sea.

The idea was to create a photographic documentary that focuses on those who will be affected most by the declining water levels, and gives them a platform to speak out. I also spoke with those involved in the restoration to help inform the reader of what’s involved, as education is key to leading others to learn about conservation.

Some in the media still portray the Salton Sea in a very negative light, and a lot of people, even in California, still aren’t aware of its existence. After hearing from all of the people I interviewed, one gets a more-complete picture of the Salton Sea, and why it is so valuable, not only to this area, but beyond the Colorado Basin.

While that part of the project is done, as the book has been published, I would like to continue receiving the input of others who enjoy the Salton Sea, have meaningful ideas, and want to share personal stories, memories and photographs, through thesaltonseaspeaks.blogspot.com.

The aim is to show that people do not want the Salton Sea to dry up, as it will spell disaster, not just at the Salton Sea, but also throughout surrounding areas. The most recent “Big Stench” went as far as Los Angeles. The Salton Sea is not located in a bubble. Its drying up will affect people far and wide in Southern California and Arizona. These people all have a connection with the largest lake in California.

I am NOT looking for comments like, “The Salton Sea stinks; what a waste,” or, “It’s a man-made mistake and a cesspool and deserves to die.” These have been spouted out over and over again, and have become tiresome. These comments will not be published onto the blog.

Please, send me your stories, photographs, recollections, ideas, comments and histories. These can be in form of pictures, text, links, YouTube videos, news articles or anything or else of note!

I will publish as much as possible on thesaltonseaspeaks.blogspot.com, as it is meant to be a space for people to speak out.

Photographs and quotes from the book will be featured at an upcoming exhibition at the Palm Desert Community Gallery as part of a three-person show entitled Portraits of the Desert, which opens Thursday, Dec. 6, and runs through Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. An opening reception takes place from 5:30 to 7 p.m., Monday, Dec. 10.

The gallery is located at 73-510 Fred Waring Drive in Palm Desert, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more info on the gallery, call (760) 346-0611, ext. 664, or visit www.palmdesertart.org.

I look forward to reading your stories and seeing your photos—and perhaps seeing you at the opening of the upcoming exhibition!

Contact Christina Lange at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Find her work at thesaltonseaspeaks.blogspot.com; portraitsandvoices.blogspot.com and www.christinalange.com.

Below: "Steve Johnson," by Christina Lange

"Steve Johnson," by Christina Lange

Published in Community Voices