Work and funding has greatly expanded at the Salton Sea Authority since 1998, but administrative overhead has been held at a remarkably low level. Authority has greatly increased, but the Authority staff has only increased from 2 to 3 full time staff. That has been accomplished through cooperation with federal and state partners, including the Bureau of Reclamation, the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS, the California Resources Agency and many other agencies. The Authority has also engaged a number of independent contractors to assist in technical and engineering work in a cost effective manner.
Bird health at the Sea has improved, in part, because of a cooperative effort between the Salton Sea Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Trained personnel aboard airboats identify birds in the early stages of illnesses, capture them, take them to rehabilitation facilities and once they have recovered return them to the wild. This approach has reduced the spread of disease among the large and varied flocks of birds at the Sea. Since 1996, more than 5,000 pelicans—both endangered California brown and American white—have been retrieved alive but sick from the Salton Sea and sent to rehabilitation facilities. When the effort began in 1996, very few of the birds survived.
In 2001, about 75 percent of the birds were successfully rehabilitated. Fight pens at each of the pelican rehabilitation centers should increase those percentage to 85 to 90 percent. All of the rehabilitated birds are released to the wild.
A partnership between the Authority and the Salton City Community Services District has addressed the issue of dead fish washing up the shore of residential areas along the West Shore. The Authority entered into an agreement in 2001 with the District to clean dead fish from the shoreline.
The approach taken was both low tech and low cost, using shovels and trash cans and a contract of $500,000. The Authority funded the effort and labor is provided by the District. Shoreline cleanup has proven to be an effective way to reduce the smell and deal with the unpleasantness associated with them.
The Authority contracted with Environmental Recovery Solutions to gather dead fish from the surface of the Salton Sea using boats and booms. The fish will be transported to a land fill. This project is expected to further reduce the risk of bird disease and odors that can occur as a result of periodic fish die offs.
Salt was actually removed from the Salton Sea in 2001 for the first time after many years of studies when an Enhanced Evaporation System began operations at the former Salton Sea Naval Test Station. At the urging of the Congressional Salton Sea Taskforce, a number of existing technologies have been adapted and tested as vehicles to enhance evaporation and export salt from the Sea.
The system, actually modified snow making equipment and mine waste disposal systems, was tested by the Bureau of Reclamation for over a year and shown to be effective in precipitating salt. However, energy costs for these systems are high and air quality issues were problematic as well.
Salt also has been removed from the Sea in a time-tested and promising process using solar ponds. For centuries, salt has been mined from salt lakes and the ocean by using the Sun. So, it was no surprise that the salt industry recommended that the Authority try the solar ponds concept as a means of removing salt from the Sea.
The Solar Pond Pilot Project operated for more than a year and expanded the knowledge base of the salts in the Sea. Solar ponds could be part of an overall restoration to assist in the formation of a hard salty crust in a smaller Salton Sea to address dust issues.
Since the 1998, there has been significant scientific research at the Sea that addressed and debunked many of the old “myths” about the coire of the Salton Sea’s problems.
The Department of Interior in cooperation with the Salton Sea Authority, established the Salton Sea Science Office in 2001 in an effort to continue the excellent work of the Salton Sea Science Subcommittee. Research through the Science Office provides decision makers and the public with solid information, upon which all actions and recommendations of the Authority are based. The Science Office has held workshops to investigate a number of issues including, euthrophication, salinity, air quality and various restoration proposals.
The University of Redlands serves as a repository for all information about the Sea. This information has been of great value to the Authority and the Science Office and has proven to be a cost effective way to understand the Sea through the use of maps displays and computer-based models.
Image and misperceptions have long been the most serious problems facing the Salton Sea. With the significant work underway at both the research and pilot project levels, it became paramount to get the accurate story about the Sea out to the public. Interest in the Sea from both print and electronic media has been strong and regular contact with reporters and editorial boards has been established. A website was created for the Authority, a video was produced by the Water Education Foundation, fact sheets and displays were developed and Salton Sea Symposiums have been held on a biannual basis.
Under contract with the Authority, Kent Sea Tech, the state’s aquaculture company, has tested a process to reduce nutrients flowing to the Sea. It involves diverting flows from the Whitewater River into shallow ponds, growing algae and then harvesting the algae by meccanical means and by Tilapia that will graze on it. The intent behind a full scale application of the process is to reduce nutrients flowing to the sa, thereby reducing algal blooms, fish die-off and odors.
In September and October 2003, extensive geotechnical work began in an effort to determine the best location for dikes in the Salton Sea. Though the Salton Sea Authority endorsed moving forward on a derivation of a plan originally developed by U.S. Filter, all proposed plans that meet the established restoration components are being scrutenized. Those restoration components include: