Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Chris Hildebrandt recently took part in a roundtable discussion focused on the plight of the Salton Sea, a 376-square-mile body of water about 40 miles south of Palm Springs, California. Local farmers, area residents, and representatives from other agencies and conservation organizations took part in the discussion, which was hosted by Anne Castle, assistant secretary of water and science for the U.S. Department of the Interior; Dr. Raul Ruiz , U.S. Representative from California's 36th District; and Joaquin Esquivel, aide to Senator Barbara Boxer and Salton Sea restoration liaison. A representative from Senator Dianne Feinstein's office was also on hand to pledge support for Salton Sea restoration efforts.
California's largest lake, the Salton Sea provides crucial stopover habitat for hundreds of thousands of birds migrating between wintering and breeding grounds in the Pacific Flyway. In recent decades, this shallow-water lake has been shrinking due to reduced flows from nearby agricultural water supplies. This exacerbates the already increasing salinity of the Salton Sea, as evaporation leaves greater concentrations of salt in what is essentially a closed wetland basin. The salt concentration negatively impacts the fish and invertebrates that waterfowl and shorebirds eat along the shallow edges of the lake.
Although solutions for the Salton Sea appear daunting and extremely expensive, the panel gave stakeholders the opportunity to review two practical small-scale projects designed to help maintain habitat for waterfowl and other birds. The first project would restore 400 acres of shallow brackish wetlands on Red Hill Bay on the southern end of the lake and the second would restore 700 acres of deeper wetlands on the exposed lake playa. Both projects are shovel-ready but lack full funding at this time.