Tom Anderson stands on an overlook on the southern edge of the shallow lake. Red Rock Hill rises up near the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, where Anderson is a deputy project manager. Anderson works to reclaim habitat for shore birds that come here to forage and feed. Agricultural runoff and evaporation team up to concentrate the salt in this land-locked lake, according to Anderson. That leaves the lake significantly saltier than the Pacific Ocean. The Salton Sea is also getting smaller.
Archive for date: September 2nd, 2016
As California’s two largest inland bodies of water go, Lake Tahoe is the stereotypical beauty queen — classically stunning, endlessly photogenic, fragile. Frankly, quite chilly yet eternally inspiring to legions of admirers. The Salton Sea is the neighbor tucked away at the far end of the street and often forgotten. Stark, spare, somewhat homely, beloved by only a select and discriminating community of devotees. The result of an accident. Unkempt. Sometimes — let’s be honest here — a little smelly.
A recent study by UC Davis confirmed that the Central Valley continues to suffer the brunt of the drought, to the tune of $630 million this year and $5.5 billion over the past three years. Farmers have fallowed more than 1 million acres of land, and 42,000 people have lost their jobs. But we need to look beyond the numbers. Small farms have gone bankrupt. Generations of farmers have lost their livelihoods, including a cantaloupe farmer I recently met with who lost the farm his grandfather started. He and his father had worked that land side-by-side for decades.
When San Diego passed a far-reaching Climate Action Plan last December, there was real reason to celebrate. The nation’s eighth-largest city, a poster child for Southern California suburbia, had passed a far-reaching, progressive environmental policy (with a Republican mayor in charge) that not only advocated for important goals, such as slashing carbon emissions in half by 2035, but made them legally binding. It was a bound promise suggesting a level of civic engagement and vision that would make the city a trailblazer for others, hitting benchmarks that perhaps have never been hit by any other city.
The same old arguments against desalination keep getting resurrected: It’s too expensive, too energy intensive, plus wastewater recycling and conservation by themselves can solve the drought problem. When put in the context of climate change, imported water and perpetual drought, none of these arguments make sense. Climate scientists are unequivocally telling Southern Californians to prepare for drought as the “new normal” (we are now experiencing the hottest year on record in the midst of the fifth year of punishing drought).