Press Room

White House and California Sign Agreement to Move Vital Salton Sea Projects Forward

Audubon calls for California officials to build on momentum to avoid a public health crisis and to save critical bird sites.

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Hailing a new agreement between officials from the State of California and the Federal Government renewing goals for Salton Sea habitat creation, Audubon today expressed hope that the memorandum of understanding will spur much-needed action to build vital bird habitat and protect Southern California communities from toxic dust.

“Given what’s at stake at the Salton Sea for both people and birds, we’re pleased to see federal officials come together with California’s leaders to start down the path toward real on-the-ground work,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). “We have a brief window to build on the momentum of this agreement, so now the hard work really starts.”

Beginning in 2018, the Salton Sea will begin receiving substantially less water from the Colorado River than in the past, eventually as much as 40 percent less. The shrinking sea will expose up to 64,000 acres of the lakebed and result in massive dust storms, creating a potential public health crisis in the Imperial Valley. Tens of thousands of acres of bird habitat could be lost.

The State of California in 2003 committed to funding projects at the Salton Sea to address the widespread habitat loss and dust. Over the years, there have been legislative proposals, public hearings, and planning sessions – but little progress has been made. A task force created last year by California Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal for 25,000 acres of habitat and dust suppression projects, and that number was affirmed in today’s memorandum of understanding.

“This is the best opportunity we have had in years to make a real difference for the more than 650,000 people who live around the Salton Sea, as well as the millions of birds and other wildlife that depend on the sea for their survival,” added Yarnold. “Audubon is committed to working with the state and federal governments, as well as other NGOs and the philanthropic community on this vital issue.”

More than 400 bird species rely on the deep water, shoreline, mudflats, and wetlands at the Salton Sea, as well as the river channels and agricultural drains leading into it. Tilapia live in the deeper waters, providing essential food for many species, including California Brown Pelican, American White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, and Caspian Tern. Perhaps the sea’s greatest value for birds is its ability to support very large numbers of waterbirds during the winter months, including up to 90 percent of North America’s Eared Grebes, 50 percent of Ruddy Ducks, and 30 percent of the American White Pelicans. The mudflats and shorelines are also essential for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds. It has been declared an Audubon Important Bird Area of Global Significance.

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

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Contact: Garrison Frost, gfrost@audubon.org, 415-644-4604.

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