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RivCo, state agencies look to clean up part of Salton Sea

Work has begun on a project that state and local officials hope will revive the Salton Sea’s north shore.

The North Lake Pilot Demonstration Project is being undertaken by Riverside County, the Salton Sea Authority, and the Salton Sea Management Program. The latter is a state agency dedicated to improving air quality and natural habitats for birds, particularly along the Pacific Flyway, one of four migration routes that extend from Alaska and Canada, into California.

One of those natural habitats is the Salton Sea, which was formed by accident nearly 120 years ago when floodwater from the Colorado River breached an irrigation canal that was being built in the Imperial Valley.

That accident ultimately led to the Salton Sea becoming a long-term ecological menace and a threat to wildlife, a circumstance the demonstration project will try to reduce, but not eliminate entirely.

    “The North Lake Pilot Demonstration Project is a milestone,” Supervisor V. Manual Perez, whose Fourth District includes part of the massive man-made lake, reportedly the largest in the United States. “It is the biggest project ever on the north end of the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea covers approximately 343 square miles – including 110 miles of shoreline –  in southern Riverside and northern Imperial counties.  It Is a major stopping point for birds, particularly waterfowl, moving up and down the Pacific Flyway,

The one-time tourist attraction has, during the past 50 years or so, become a major environmental hazard, having been damaged by rising levels of salt, flooding of its shorelines, and fertilizer runoff from farms.

Because there is no outlet from which water can flow out naturally, the Salton Sea has 50 percent more salt than the ocean, according to the California Department of Fish & Wildlife

It has also been plagued by other water quality problems, including high temperatures, and excessive nutrients. The latter – the result of excessive runoff –  causes dense growth of plant life and death of animal life because of a lack of oxygen.

More than 400 resident, migratory, and special status bird species are known to have been in or near the Salton Sea since it was created, and an estimated 270 of those species use the Salton Sea regularly, according to Fish & wildlife.

To deal with those issues, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in October 2021 approved the pilot demonstration program, which calls for a lake of approximately 156 acres to be built on the Salton Sea’s north end.

That body of water will be home to shallow and deep-water habitats, according to a statement released last month by the county.

Both habitats will provide resources for fish and birds. They will also control dust, provide recreation, and revive the northern end of the Salton Sea. It will also boost North Shore, an unincorporated community of about 3,500 residents that formed in 1959.

Currently, there are about 5,000 acres of restoration projects under construction near the Salton Sea, but all of that work has been in Imperial County, in which most of the Salton Sea is located, according to Perez.

“The Salton Sea and the surrounding communities have struggled for a very long time,” Perez said in an email. “We have made some strides in Imperial County, where there has been some restoration and mitigation efforts … at the south end of the sea.”

North Shore is home to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. It’s also the location of the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club Community Center, which overlooks the site where the $19.5 million project will be built.

Funding for the North Lake project will be provided by the California Department of Water Resources.

Dudek, an environmental engineering firm in Encinitas, was hired by Riverside County to conduct the design, technical, and environmental studies needed to develop the North Lake project. That work began in October and was marked by a ceremony at the community center.

Dudek will design the perimeter lake, then turn the project over to a construction firm that will be selected by the board of supervisors, said Charles Greeley, a principal with Dudek and the project’s main overseer.

Dudek has conducted multiple restoration projects, including a few near the Salton Sea, but it has never done anything on the scale of the “lake within a lake” development, according to Greeley.

“We have a lot of experience with all of the components that will go into this project,” Greeley said. “We’ve done a lot of restoration, but I don’t think anyone has ever tried to clean up anything that has as much water in it as the Salon Sea.”

Dudek will be paid $4.1 million for the North Lake project, which is expected to take three to five years to complete.

“This will only involve a small part of the lake,” Greeley said. “If it works, we can try it in other parts of the [Salton Sea]. But it won’t be nearly large enough to clean up the whole thing.”

     There was a time when state and local officials believed the Salton Sea could be brought back to what it was in the 1950s and early to mid-1960s: a resort and recreation destination with hotels, vacation homes, and a yacht club.

Today most of that is gone, including the yacht club, which closed in the mid-1980s and was eventually converted into the community center. Restoring the Salton Sea to its glory days of 60 years ago probably is not realistic.

“I don’t think anyone is thinking about restoring the entire lake anymore,” Greeley said.


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  1. This project will fail because it shouldn’t exist. The line in the article says it all “One of those natural habitats is the Salton Sea, which was formed by accident. Any attempt to save it will only exacerbate the the previous accident

    • Are you kidding me leave the toilet to dry up these bleeding hearts dont tell the truth on the south end the river of sewer from Mexico runs 24 7 and you want to swim in it wake up you have spent 100 of million on study’s and over 50 years nothing but jobs for lobbyists it’s not going to work so your down there in the winter let’s see how many are cleanup ng in the middle of the summer fcb

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