Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905, and its relentless deterioration began in earnest after the area’s heyday as a resort area in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the decades since, water levels have dropped precipitously, while pollution and salinization levels have skyrocketed—and as a result, the lake is a gradually evolving natural disaster in our backyard.

Over the years, various scientific and political initiatives have been proposed to forestall the very real dangers posed by the degrading sea. But few, if any, of the proposed solutions have been implemented.

Until now, that is.

“The two-pronged approach is moving forward under the Salton Sea 10-Year Plan,” said Bruce Wilcox, the assistant secretary of Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. “(The first prong is) concentrating on getting some construction done out there so there’s some habitat restored, and more importantly, from a public health point of view, getting some dust suppression happening. We’re doing that right now. We’ve already started.”

The second prong is still being developed, and various Salton Sea threat-management stakeholders—including the Salton Sea Authority, the California Department of Water Resources, the Imperial Irrigation District and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife—are in the process of conducting a series of community workshops, led by Wilcox, in cities surrounding the Salton Sea.

“These meetings are for anyone, but they’re particularly designed for the public,” he said. “We hold them in the evenings so that folks who are working during the day can go.”

What’s the goal of these workshops?

“What we’re hoping to get from the general public is some input on whether or not they think the short-term projects make sense,” Wilcox said. “Are (people) happy with where they are located (geographically)? What other longer-range solutions do you see for the Salton Sea? So far, we’ve gotten some interesting feedback. For instance, there’s concern about water import. There’s concern on the part of people who live on the west side of the sea as to how soon there might be a restoration program under way near them. Those are the sorts of things we’re trying to get from folks.

“Also, longer-term, we want to know if they think the two-pronged approach will work, and how well they think it might work, or what they think we should do to change it.”

One encouraging aspect of the Salton Sea 10-Year Plan rollout is that it offers the first evidence that separate bureaucratic efforts are finally coming together. Signed by the governor in October 2015, Assembly Bill 1095 called for the creation of a list of “shovel-ready” Salton Sea restoration projects by March 31, 2016.

“All of the projects which were mentioned in that bill are included in the 10-Year Plan,” Wilcox said. “Red Hill Bay has started construction.”

The Red Hill Bay Project is a joint effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Imperial Irrigation District to restore habitat on the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea. Wilcox said the state-funded project includes about 500 acres.

Wilcox said other projects will get started later this year and early next year.

“The southwest corner of the sea includes the New River, and on the east side of that river, there are about 640 acres of species-conservation habitat,” he said. “We will advertise in the next month for a bid on the development of this project, and we should start construction on that later this year. That’s a deeper-water fisheries habitat. We now have salinity issues with the Salton Sea that are raising heck with the fisheries, so when we put these on the ground, we’ll manage the salinity in these impoundments. At least we’ll then have some stable fish habitats. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”

The 10-Year Plan projects are expected to cost about $390 million in total. Who will provide that funding?

“We have $80 million in state of California grants stemming from (2014’s) Prop 1,” Wilcox said. “But we’re looking at getting additional funding from the (United States Department of Agriculture) perhaps, or from the (federal) watershed improvement acts. There’s a bill right now in the California State Senate that would provide additional funding. I’m confident that we’ll get the money we need.”

However, the Trump administration has not exactly embraced funding for environmental issues.

“Well, it’s a new administration, and we’re learning about them as they’re learning about us,” he said, rather diplomatically. “We have a signed memorandum of agreement with the Department of the Interior for funding. I’m going to assume that we’ll get that funding.”

However, Wilcox acknowledged that the memorandum was signed under the Obama administration.

“It certainly could be taken away,” Wilcox said. “But for the state of California, and for most people who look at this question, the cost of restoring the Salton Sea is a huge number. But when you look at it from the federal government’s perspective, it’s a line item in a budget, and there are all sorts of line items in there that are bigger than this one, so I’m reasonably confident that we’ll be able to prevail with the agencies. We’ve had some very productive discussions with them to this point. … But I don’t want to kid anybody. Funding is going to be an uphill fight. It always is, no matter what the project is.”

Wilcox expressed optimism that the 10-Year-Plan will succeed.

“I think the odds are reasonably good,” he said. “(The sea) won’t be like it was in the 1960s. It’ll be smaller, but sustainable. We call it the Salton Sea Management Program for that reason: It’s not restoration, necessarily. It’s to manage and impact all of the things going on.”

Workshops on the Salton Sea’s 10-Year-Plan are being held in cities all around the Salton Sea, including one at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, July 6, at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo St., in Indio; and another at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 12, at the Rancho Mirage Public Library, 71100 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. For more information, including a complete schedule of workshops, visit

Published in Environment

Regarding "Get the Lead Out: Effort to Ban Lead Ammo in California Should Be a No-Brainer":

Assembly Bill 711 would ban all hunting with lead ammunition throughout California. Self-proclaimed environmental groups, largely opposed to hunting in general, claim condors feeding on game carcasses are poisoned by lead ammunition fragments, and are pushing this ill-conceived proposal through the Legislature to bypass the scrutiny their claims received from the Fish and Game Commission. The commission enacts hunting and fishing regulations, and analyzes scientific claims before taking regulatory action. This is the second time these groups have tried to skirt the commission’s review.

There has been a ban on hunting large game with lead ammunition in the California condor range since 2008, due to the passage of Assembly Bill 821. The same anti-hunting groups pushed AB 821 through the Legislature to get around real scientific inquiry into the source of lead poisoning in condors that was being conducted by the commission at that time. They promised that AB 821 would stop condors from being poisoned. It hasn’t.

Faced with AB 821’s predictable failure, lead-ammo-ban advocates then pressured the commission to expand the scope of the AB 821 lead-ammo ban statewide. But last August, the commission refused to expand the scope of the existing lead-ammo ban, citing the need for more scientific evaluation. At the August 2012 commission meeting, scientists critical of the lead-ammo-ban proponents’ claims showed that the incidence of lead poisoning in condors has not gone down, and blood-lead levels and mortality have actually increased! This is true despite California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s confirmation that 99 percent of California hunters are complying with AB 821, and have not used lead ammo since 2008. This strongly suggests an alternative source of soluble lead in the environment that is poisoning condors—something other than metallic lead ammunition.

After hearing the presentation last August, Commissioner Richard Rogers bluntly said “the science has got to make sense or else you’re not going to sell the rest of us (on an expanded lead-ammunition ban), that’s for darn sure.” Further, then-commission president Jim Kellogg admonished the lead-ban-advocacy groups to not cheat the process again by introducing a bill in the Legislature. Kellogg asked the groups to “allow us (the commission) the opportunity to try to make this work before you go to the legislature and get a bill going. That’s what rushed it through the last time.” Watch the hearing at

Kellogg's plea was ignored. Impatient lead-ammunition-ban proponents disregarded the commissioners’ requests to move the issue through its conventional scientific review and instead got Assemblymember Anthony Rendon to introduce AB 711.

Through the lead-ammunition working committee created by the commission at the behest of current commission president Michael Sutton, the department and commission are ready to investigate and settle the condor lead-poisoning debate based on facts, sound science and a full hearing from all stake holders. There are many questions that need to be answered. After an exhaustive public-records retrieval campaign, those records show that anti-lead ammunition researchers have hidden underlying data and worked hard to avoid public scrutiny of their publicly subsidized research. A recent paper (Finkelstein, et al., “Lead Poisoning and the Deceptive Recovery of the Critically Endangered California Condor, May 2012) concedes that AB 821 has had no effect on lead poisoning in condors. Nonetheless, the paper tenuously concludes that a total ban on lead ammunition is now appropriate. The unaddressed question: What is the source of lead that is poisoning condors?

To politicians, real science is too hard to study, or flat out is irrelevant. So despite proof that the existing lead-ammo ban has not been effective, and despite the fact that some of the key scientific papers used to justify the condor zone lead-ammo ban have been soundly debunked, the lead-ammo ban lobbyists persist in pushing their anti-hunting agenda statewide. But their ideological rhetoric, not sound science, is carrying AB 711. That’s how these groups got the first ineffective lead-ammunition ban passed. The same flimsy tactic is the basis for their latest assault on California hunters.

Tom Pedersen is the retired Chief of Law Enforcement for the California Department of Fish and Game. He currently serves as the liaison on legislative and fish and game regulatory issues for the California Rifle and Pistol Association.

Published in Community Voices