The barren earth and dead trees reveal the blight of the Salton Sea, where water conservation efforts are attempting to restore the once natural playground and tourist site in California.
In the middle of California’s driest desert is the Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake. Once a popular tourist destination, the storied salty and toxic lake nestled in the Imperial Valley has been slowly shrinking over the years.
A water transfer deal passed in 2003 could speed up that process, and some are now worried it could be an environmental and health disaster for the region.
Standing near the Salton Sea’s receding shoreline on a recent day, 75-year-old Ed Angel points to a ragged patch of desert with dying palm trees.
“That’s where the yacht club used to be right over there … and they had a hotel there, a two-story hotel,” Angel says.
Angel, Salton City‘s honorary mayor, says in the ’70s the place was packed with tourists who came for the restaurants, water-skiing and good fishing. Now, dead fish gently bob along the shore. Under the desert sun, the smell is overpowering. Tilapia, the only remaining fish in the lake, struggle to survive in water saltier than the ocean.
Shrinking Lake, Shrinking City
Residents in Salton City, a town of about 3,700 people that sits on the western shore of the Salton Sea, have watched their home values plummet, and many have moved away. At the southern edge of the Salton Sea, second-generation farmer Al Kalin works 2,000 acres of sugar beets, alfalfa, wheat and carrots. The 63-year-old farmer says the irrigation water from Imperial Valley farm fields has been replenishing the sea for decades.
Farmer Al Kalin, 63, has about 2,000 acres of crops along the Salton Sea. He’s concerned a water transfer agreement is helping speed the decline of the Salton Sea.
“The crystal clear water coming out of the ground … that’s the tile drainage water out of this field,” Kalin says. “That makes up about 25 percent of all the water that goes to the sea.”
The saltwater lake fed by agriculture water is also one of the last remaining waterways in Southern California for migratory birds. Kalin says they’ve found more than 400 species of birds in the Imperial Valley.
“That’s more than anywhere else in the United States,” he says.
Like many Imperial Valley farmers, Kalin is not that happy about the water transfer agreement that sends billions of gallons of Colorado River water to the cities of San Diego County. The 2003 deal was upheld by California’s Supreme Court this year.
Negating The Impact
Halla Razak of the San Diego County Water Authority, however, says it’s a win-win situation for both counties. Razak says San Diego gets water and the Imperial Irrigation District gets the funds to implement water conservation projects. She also disputes that the water transfer has contributed to the decline of the Salton Sea.
“We have been depositing water in the Salton Sea and absolutely negating any kind of impacts that the transfers have had on the sea,” Razak says.
This is partially accomplished, Razak says, through a voluntary fallowing program that pays farmers to not plant crops. Some of that conserved water goes to San Diego and some goes to the Salton Sea. But the delivery of water will stop in 2018.
Herons nest in a tree along the Salton Sea. They are just one of the more than 400 species of birds in California’s Imperial Valley that could could leave the area if the lake dries up.
That was when the state was supposed to have a restoration plan under way for the Salton, but that hasn’t happened. So now, the San Diego County Water Authority, along with the Imperial Irrigation District, is seeking to stop the delivery of water four years early.
Imperial Irrigation District officials say the money saved can build habitats for birds and other wildlife with a series of shallow ponds designed to establish a fish population.
Causes For Concern
In the meantime, the Salton Sea continues to decline. Researchers say the sea could reach its tipping point in just a matter of years. First, the fish will disappear, and then many of the birds that depend on those fish will go elsewhere or die off entirely.
Other concerns are dust storms from the soil that has been exposed from the sea’s drying up. It has become a toxic mix of metals, salt and agricultural chemicals. Farmer Kalin says that when the wind blows, it’s like tear gas.
“This white dust we have — it burns your eyes, it burns your nose [and] your throat. … People don’t have any inkling of what it’s like,” Kalin says.
Residents in Salton City remain worried, and what’s going to happen to the area is daily conversation. Some say that if the lake dries up, the people can’t survive.
The sea may have been created by accident, but that’s no reason to shirk our responsibilities to the species that have become dependent on it or the families who live nearby.
There are 2 probable outcomes of Judge Connelly Court.. ( JUNE 5 2013 )
1.INVALIDATION of Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA)
2. VALIDATION of QSA
(Keep in mind the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) board never saw the final contract they approved!! ) ( the public never read it ) California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was not followed.
Clearly there many questions to be answered with considerations for action. In either case it is the responsibility of the IID to be prepared. INVALIDATION will require a substantial and immediate effort to start a major and historical negotiation for a new document defining the future of the Imperial Valley. VALIDATION will require a well thought out plan to appeal the consequences of a profoundly political effort to trap IID in a fatally flawed contract that puts the burden of massive benefits for 22 million people on the backs of 170,000 valley citizens… A well thought out strategic plan ( strategy- tactics-management) must be on hand to set out our vision for a prosperous future with hope replacing the fear of multi billions of for cost overruns and environmental liability that can last a lifetime and destroy the valley.
Do you think Imperial Valley deserves the best professional help available?
IID is facing many very large experienced water institutions.
Why would IID want to validate contracts that rob it of well earned value ( desert miracle )
It might be helpful to review the actual values in play. Unfortunately IID receives mostly risk and uncertainty. The following is economic analysis which has largely been absent for 10 years. CONSEQUENCES OF QSA:
1. All American Canal—-100% paid for by citizens of Valley – heart of irrigation system—Conservation of 80,000 acre feet per year. At a marginal cost of 2000 per af or 160 million per year missed income. ( all figures for water price will be conservatively priced at 2000af for simplicity. Imagine what water values will be in 45 or 75 year term of QSA ) This conserved water goes 100% to San Diego for 110 years….basic value lost EIGHTEEN BILLION. REPLACEMENT COST 2050 700 MILLION! why?
2. MWD NUMBER ONE— 100,000af transferred at cost to MWD–zero profit—-IID takes responsibility for 100% of liability and gives them priority on use in shortage. 100,000 af times 2000 per af times 45 years is TEN BILLION-( lost to valley)- this should not be part of QSA it was stand alone contract with a 15 year cancellation clause !!! why??
3. 200,000 af transfer to SD, cost unknown but 100% obligation of IID, origional price$ 250 per af….Price will be frozen for 20 years at 650 per af with openend liability — financial and environmental !!! Missed revenue 18.5 BILLION
( amendment #5 prepaid 50 million and will cost IID billions) nothing gained, billions lost–thanks dream team..
4. 100,000 of permanent transfer to Coachella of 100,000 top priority water — cost unknown but open-ended, money received
75 per af per year…. tragic deal…..opportunity cost to IID forever= billions ( gives multi billion opportunity to CVWD ) why?
For perspective a 30% drought will cost S. California over 100 billion in gross revenues per year…..Drought insurance is an idea whose time has come( proposed 1985 awri-th) Present opportunity—new IID management.
For some reason the Dream Team thought QSA was a good deal?? In December-2009 when the entire QSA was invalidated and made permanent in Feb 2010, The Dream team fought aggressively to convince the IID to APPEAL the invalidation???????
Do you think every effort should now be made to again invalidate the QSA ?
Would the court and the outside world look very favorably on IID if they hired MTO, one of the top Law Firms in the country. The leading partner, Ron Olson is not only one of the outstanding lawyers in the country, he owns and still manages a farm in Iowa..
His firm has powerful political connections at State and National level.. This firm is noted for imagination and expertise on complex contracts. Do Valley citizens deserve the best representation???
Should IID utilize an expert team to level playing field against many large and experienced water institutions – with unlimited capacity to continue to take water from Imperial Valley – to use powerful political lobby effort against us?
Should the IID develop a thorough Public Relations capacity to respond to daily barrage of questions that will be coming at IID and inform the world of truth—this epic battle between AG and Urban ?? David vs Goliath…( QSA does great damage to AG position West-wide)
Should IID fully understand all its economic and financial options??? to date little economic input available!!! ( AWRI )
Should IID develop a respected and knowledgeable team to represent IID outside valley??
Should IID controlling most valuable water right in country—write the rules??? if not now, when?
Should IID follow lead of Director Hanks to capitalize value of valley assets with new ideas and profitable concepts?
Clearly lots of questions need almost immediate attention as IID evolves from old fashioned irrigation district to a modern Water Services Institution.– managing billions of Valley assets.( when your assets are worth many billions, clearly the old non-profit iid management model becomes obsolete ).for the benefit of the citizens of Imperial Valley….We need to bring the money back to the valley; this must be managed appropriately..QSA is a massive transfer of assets out of valley….We have [had] 27 days to address this profound opportunity….
Everyone needs to be active…This is your valley. Support the IID board and encourage them to be fully prepared.
If you care enough to give the very best, do it now… Last best chance…
Read the most up to date issues concerning the Salton Sea and The Colorado River Transfer: