SACRAMENTO — California voters yesterday passed Proposition 68, a $4 billion state bond measure that will provide critical funding for state parks, clean water, climate change resilience, and wildlife habitat – including $200 million in funding to address the deterioration of the Salton Sea. Echoing this mandate from the electorate, the National Audubon Society urges the state of California to accelerate progress on the implementation of projects to reduce dust and stave off environmental degradation.
“The voters have spoken, and they’ve given California officials a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect the communities, birds and other wildlife of the Salton Sea,” said Sarah Rose, executive director of Audubon California. “We have a plan, we have money to get started and we have a mandate from millions of California voters. What we don’t have is time to waste, so it’s important that the state get to work as quickly as possible.”
The $200 million newly approved for Salton Sea projects comes on top of $80 million already appropriated by the legislature to address this crisis. Prop 68 brings California even closer to full funding of the state’s 10-Year Salton Sea Management Plan, which includes projects to control dust and restore wetland habitat. While the state has already committed to a rigid timeline for project acreage to be completed, it has already fallen far behind schedule.
“Addressing the crisis at the Salton Sea should be one of the top priorities for every state official in California,” said Frank Ruiz, Salton Sea program director for Audubon California. “Without rapid action, we face an acute public health emergency and the potential to lose one of the best migratory stopovers for millions of California’s birds.”
The area surrounding the Salton Sea is home to more than 650,000 people, many of whom already suffer from health problems due to poor air quality in the area. As the water levels in the sea recede, the exposed lakebed dries up and the toxic dust blows across the vicinity, which has some of the highest asthma rates in the United States. In addition to the public health implications, shrinking water levels result in a higher salinity, which kills fish that many migratory birds depend on to fuel their migrations along the Pacific Flyway. Populations of water birds like American White Pelicans and Eared Grebes have crashed as a result. The Salton Sea Management Plan addresses these threats through dust control and wetland restoration projects that protect both people and birds.
Audubon California, the state office for the National Audubon Society, was part of a broad coalition of organizations working to put Prop 68 on the ballot and engage Audubon members in the state to vote Yes on 68. In addition to funding Salton Sea projects, the bond measure provides more than $440 million for climate adaptation efforts, including support for improved wildlife habitat connectivity, climate-smart farm practices and rivers and waterways adaptations for a changing climate. In 2014, Audubon released the Birds and Climate Change Report. The study shows that more than half of the bird species in North America could lose at least half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures. These species include California birds like the Allen's Hummingbird, Brown Pelican and Yellow-billed Magpie.
To learn more about Audubon's work to protect the communities and birds of the Salton Sea and other saline lakes across the arid West, please visit www.audubon.org/conservation/western-water. To learn more about Audubon's Climate Initiative, please visit www.audubon.org/climate.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more and how to help at www.audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.