U.S. leaders meet with DU and partners to discuss Salton Sea solutions

Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Chris Hildebrandt recently took part in a prestigious panel discussion focused on the plight of the Salton Sea

The April 26 roundtable included state and federal agencies, other conservation organizations and local farmers and area residents. It was hosted by Anne Castle, assistant secretary of water and science for the U.S. Department of the Interior; Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA, 36th District); and Joaquin Esquivel, Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (CA) aide and Salton Sea restoration liaison. A representative from Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (CA) office was also present to pledge support for Salton Sea restoration efforts. 

As the largest lake in California, the Salton Sea provides critical habitat for hundreds of thousands of birds annually but has been shrinking due to reduced flows from nearby agricultural water supplies. This exacerbates the already increasing salinity of the Salton Sea, which is a closed wetland basin, as evaporation exceeds inflow and leaves behind ever-increasing salts. The salt concentration negatively impacts the fish and invertebrates required by waterfowl and shorebirds that use the shallow edges of the sea while migrating between wintering and breeding grounds.

Solutions for the Salton Sea appear daunting and extremely expensive, but the panel brought together interested stakeholders with creative ideas to help revive the wetland and gave them the opportunity to review two implementable, smaller-scale projects designed to help maintain habitat. Hildebrandt and Chris Schoneman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project leader for the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, presented on the status of one of these projects that will restore 400 acres of shallow brackish wetlands in Red Hill Bay. The project is shovel-ready, but lacks full funding. 

“The Salton Sea is important to waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway as it represents the narrow part of the hourglass between California’s Central Valley and additional wintering areas in Mexico and South America,” Hildebrandt said. “The Red Hill Bay project also complements the Salton Sea Species Conservation Habitat project, which has California state funding pending, to restore 700 acres of deeper wetlands on the exposed lake playa. Ducks Unlimited is also involved with this project and provided engineering technical assistance. Restoring these wetlands will provide habitat for fish that are a food source for water birds, other wildlife and local residents.”

Although not the final answer for the Salton Sea, these two projects are prime examples showcasing multi-partner restoration efforts and providing for a myriad of wildlife species.

You can watch the Salton Sea roundtable discussion on YouTube.