Friday, January 19, 2018

How exactly does one go about fixing what ails the Salton Sea ???

Interesting set of articles recently from the Los Angeles Times on various schemes for fixing the problems of the Salton Sea 
Animated Gif - Los Angeles Times

(Gary Coronado /Los Angeles Times)
The issue with the eventual fate of the Salton Sea is at a critical point now. It actually always has been critical, but clearly the present set of negative ecological circumstances surrounding the sea encompass so many other health and ecological issues as never before. There have been many proposed solutions over the years, but nothing has ever really gotten done. After the initial Colorado river bank breach was corrected back in 1907, the sea level has been maintained by the irrigation runoff from farms in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys and two rivers (horribly polluted) coming out of Mexico, the Alamo River and the New River. The danger became even more elevated when the impending legislation to transfer some of the local farmers’ share of Colorado River water to San Diego County. Even then the studies showed that this disastrous decision would make the shoreline recede by more than a mile. And this is where the concentrated salinity and toxic pollution increases causing massive fish kills and bird dieoffs. Another side effect which damages human health are all the toxic dust storms from the dry fine silty lake bed where the sea has receded.

Animated  Map - Los Angeles Times

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Dead trees, debris and dead fish dotted the shoreline of the Salton Sea in 2015. This is now a common  site everywhere along the Salton Sea's shores and beaches. For folks who are old enough to remember what the Sea once looked like, it's an incredible sadness to know how so much life has been destroyed. I'm fascinated with the Sea's historical creation back in 1905 with the irrigation canal construction blunder over in the Mexico area south of Yuma and some of the incredible wildlife changes which facilitated miles of shoreline ecosystem freshwater (at worst brackish) habitat. I'm even more fascinated with the sea's ancient freshwater Lake Cahuilla creation 1000s of years ago. I imagine the area was incredibly rich in all manner of wildlife, including the Sonoran beaver which would have existed in Southern California. The non-profit organization "Martinez Beaver" has a wonderful reprinted document from the state of California Fish and Game entitled, The Status of Beavers in California. Scroll down to page #23. This was an amazing piece in that it reveals the development of beaver activity in fresh water all the way to the Salton Sea via Alamo & New Rivers, which originate from the south at Mexican border. It documents a trek once taken down the Alamo River in April of 1940, by Robert Hart, from the California Division of Fish and Game, who examined this river by boat along its entire course in California from Mexico to the Salton Sea. He found evidence of Beaver activity from the Mexican border, through Holtville, through Brawley, through Calipatria and all the way into the Imperial Game Refuge near the Salton Sea past Calipatria and west of the town of Niland.

Click Here to Magnify
In one description there is mention of Beaver in and around several lakes on either side of the Alamo River next a Finney Gun Club. The map on the right shows the location of this hunting club being near Hwy 111 south of Calipatria where the highway crosses over this game refuge. Looking on Google Earth you can see the interesting pattern of these lakes (Finney, Ramer & Wiest lakes) along the Alamo River and also numerous smaller Ox-Bow Lakes which were created decades ago prior to the build up of towns and farmland creation when the Alamo was allowed to meander back and forth which is the nature of most rivers on floodplains. Now the river is pretty much maintained and kept channelized so as to not disturb the existing bordering farm fields which has tightened the river channel. But it was this region that had the heaviest concentration of beaver which would have all thrived in the rich abundant native riparian vegetation of a wide meandering floodplain, plus the same meander created countless ox-bow ponds everywhere which still exist in places. Keep in mind that prior to 1934, the Tamarisk and Arundo cane had not yet taken over and destroyed the native riparian ecosystem as it has done today. There were later drought years from 1931 and especially 1934 which brought serious water shortages to Imperial Valley. The regulation of the river by Lake Mead didn't begin until 1935 and eventually freed the Imperial Valley from the periodic water shortages and inferior water quality which usually resulted from droughts in earlier years. This same year, 1934, started the dramatic drop in beavers populations in this region and over in the New River which had a huge population they completely disappeared. Less water into the valley meant complete shut off which dried many places up to mere saline seeps. The new All American Canal started construction in 1934 so that irrigation water delivery would never again be dependent on coming up through Mexico. Still, Salton Sea has so much potential as a wildlife draw, but not under the present system of maintenance. Something radically has to change and it's starts with completely stopping the toxic pollution on both sides of the border. Fat chance that ever happening! 😒

Image - Google Earth

The image above is from Google Earth on the Hwy 111 bridge in Imperial Valley just south of the town of Calipatira, California. The view is looking south at the Alamo River which comes out of Mexico. Often at this point in the Alamo you can even see those giant foamy suds floating downstream towards it's goal north to the Salton Sea. As you can see the vegtation here is predominantly non-native Tamarisks and Arundo cane. Neither of these plants are favoured by beaver as compared to the willows, Ash and cottonwoods which dominated in the early descriptions of accounts of beaver in Imperial Valley. Although Beaver have been found to chew on Tamarisk in the Colorado River where no other palatable plants exist. If you venture over to Google Earth to this exact location and turn completely around viewing the Alamo River looking north, you will see some natives like California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) which in my almost 40+ years of experience viewing this region are in fact on the increase as a result of birds. Grackles most likely.
The original Breach in Irrigation Canal Construction which gave us the Salton Sea
Animated Historical Map - Loa Angeles Times
Courtesy of Chris Landis collection

Fascinating Read on the original breach along the Colorado
Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/January 1907/The Possibilities of Salton Sea

Resulting Consequences to Wildlife

Photo - Milton Friend
Back in the 1950s the Salton Sea was once known as the “California Riviera” which gave life to real estate schemes of a Las Vegas by the Sea known as Salton City. Now it's one of the United States of America’s worst ecological disasters. Nothing more than a fetid, stagnant, salty lake, coughing up millions of dead fish and birds. It's been estimated that around 100 million fish thrive in the Salton Sea, but problems such as algal blooms caused by excess pollution (Miracle-Gro for Algae) in the water from Imperial & Coachella Valley agriculture and the raw filth coming from Mexico via the New & Alaamo Rivers which flow straight out of the city of Mexicali have led to these massive die-offs such as this one (above) affecting gulf croakers. I remember back in 1996, the news reports of thousands of white and brown pelicans in the Salton Sea were being killed off by this avian botulism, marking the first time that fish-eating birds succumbed to the disease. The potential for wildlife of all sorts was huge at the very begining of the Sea's modern re-creation at the hands of an irrigation canal contruction blunder at the Colorado River in 1905.

US Fish ans Wildlife Service

Flocks of snow geese (above) rest on an upland habitat adjacent to the Salton Sea that is part of the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. This scene flashes me back to a time when Spanish Explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, came through Imperial Valley, there was no mention of the great Sea's existence in 1774-1776 in his journal when they camped at San Sebastian Marsh where San Felipe Creek enters into the Salton Sink. Oddly enough at the time, the climate was far different. Both Fray Pedro Font and Anza made reference on the second journey the following year of a fierce snow blizzard they encountered at San Sebastian Marsh (about the area of Hwy 85 Border Patrol Checkpoint), where conditions were so miserable that they lost several livestock and horses which they brought with them on the expedition. Hard to believe such a weather event like this happened if you've ever passed through here and seen the area's lunarscape appearance. But interestingly, when they did leave Anza Valley in the San Jacinto Mountain range and looked down into the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley from the higher elevations coming down through present day, Bautista Canyon, he did comment on what had the appearance of a massive snowy landscape in the valleys below. In reality once the Spanish expedition arrived on the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley floor, they found a massive riparian habitat where millions upon millions of aquatic birds like snow geese, maybe even white pelicans, egrets, etc covered the landscape. Ancient Lake Cahuilla (Salton Sea) must have at one time (before Anza) looked like that scene when the Colorado followed the same ancient pathway where the canal construction breach took place at the Colorado River in 1905.
1950s Las vegas by the Sea gone Bust

Postcard Image - From Wanderland
At the start of the 1950s, the sea was viewed as having so much potential as a tourist Mecca. Indeed as the post card above promises, this was a resort of Las Vegas caliber and so close to L.A. and San Diego in the west and Phoenix to the east. But that was then. Modern Science in the 1950s brought mankind the not so Green Revolution, where those miracle chemicals Allied & Axis Power Chemical Companies (DuPont, Monsanto, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Etc) used for bomb making during World War II, could now suddenly be used to make deserts artificially green. Either way those chemicals destroy things. But this was the beginning of the end for the Salton Sea with this scientific miracle, sorry I meant debacle. Unfortunately, looking at the Salton Sea today and the surrounding post apocalyptic appearance it has along all it's beaches & shoreline, one could almost agree with the online gamer description of it as nothing more than "a putrid, salt-rich lake whose waters are unlikely to be home to anything you’d want to go fishing for." The Salton Sea is clearly a toxic mess, in which the same online gamer again described as being able to "burn through a man's lower intestine in seconds" if you were to ingest any of it's foul liquid. Yuck, but that's the feeling you get anyway.
So are there any real viable Soultions ???

SDSU Center for Inland Waters

Comments from readers in the original article in Yahoo News
"Dig a tunnel to San Diego and fill it up."
This comment above had the right idea, but the logistics were a way off their target. Something closer to home - Mexico!
"The best thing for the Salton sea is to let it return to it's natural state as a dry lake bed."
Okay now this was a totally out of touch. True, the modern day Salton Sea was a dry lakebed prior to the construction accident in 1905, but allowing it to go back to a dry lakebed is not the answer and creates massive amounts of health issues. Both for human as well as wildlife. There was once a water pipeline plan dismissed years ago which may not have been an attractive option to save the beleaguered Salton Sea way back when, but now it may be the only best way to buy the region more time. Below here are three links to info on the scheme of building a sea level canal from Sea of Cortez to Salton Sea. This really is the only viable option, but as usual it's only a mere fix-it-pill approach which is generally the way humans ever accomplish anything. While this proposal in interesting, there should also be a side by side second canal or pipeline which should act as a release valve back to Sea of Cortez in case of another Hurricane Kathleen in 1976 and Doreen the following year 1977 flooded which made the Salton Sea level rise significantly enough to flood several coastal towns like Bombay Beach. But here are the links to canal info.
Desert Sun: How Waters from Mexico can Save the Salton Sea
Why an Unpopular Idea Could Be the Salton Sea’s Best Solution 
“Bureaucracy, made up entirely of petty minds, stands as an obstacle to the prosperity of the nation; delays for seven years, by its machinery, the project of a canal which would have stimulated the production of a province.”
HonorĂ© de Balzac - French Novelist & Playwright 
Helping clean up the Salton Sea must also include helping Mexico clean up it's Troubled Waters
MEXICO: Farmers angry over new Sewer Plant which may clean Irrigation Water
Animated Map Sources: Tim Krantz, professor of environmental studies, Salton Sea Database program director, University of Redlands; Lisa Benvenuti, GIS analyst, University of Redlands; California State Parks.
References about Salton Sea It's Creation, it's historical Drawdowns and eventual Death
I'm reserving this spot for a furture post which deals with why the ancient Lake Cahuilla disappeared in the first place. The post is almost completed and I'll place it here, as well as the Networkedblogs Facebook page.
Los Angeles Times: "Riverside County has a new plan to fix the Salton Sea — or at least a part of it"
Los Angeles Times: "Drawdowns and death of the Salton Sea"
Los Angeles Times: "State unveils a 10-year plan to restore habitat and control toxic dust storms along the Salton Sea's receding shoreline"