Restore Salton Sea to avoid toxic dust disaster

Restore Salton Sea to avoid toxic dust disaster

 Sunrise over the Salton Sea. California's largest lake is drying up.
Sunrise over the Salton Sea. California’s largest lake is drying up. Hayne Palmour IV

Last September, the state watchdog agency known informally as the Little Hoover Commission issued an unusually pointed report warning of a coming crisis in Imperial County and beyond. As the Salton Sea continues to shrink, “desert winds will lift dust from thousands of acres of newly revealed lakebed and blow it into population centers, agricultural areas and world-class resort economies.”

Barring government action, the problem is likely to explode after Dec. 31, 2017, when water transfers to the sea are scheduled to expire under a complex 2003 regional water accord.

Thankfully, the Brown administration seems to be rising to the occasion. The state budget for the fiscal year that begins Friday includes $80.5 million to cover the costs related to the development and research for the first phase of the Salton Sea Management Plan, which is now being formulated based on a series of workshops, committee meetings and public hearings that began in February.

The money, which comes from a water bond approved by state voters in 2014, will also be used to create more than 1,000 acres of habitat that will slow erosion — one of several promising tactics identified in past studies.

Those studies suggested addressing and fixing the problem could cost $9 billion or more. The Brown administration thinks it can stabilize and restore the Salton Sea for $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. As experts get a handle on the cost, California must act decisively before allowing its largest inland body of water to turn into a giant toxic dust bowl.


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