Sustainability. It’s a word that often comes up when discussing the Salton Sea—but what does “sustainability” truly mean?
On Saturday, May 24, environmental leaders and residents gathered at Second Annual Environmental Health Leadership Summit at Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School to learn about the sustainability plan being proposed by the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), as well as many other environmental issues.
Bruce Wilcox, environmental manager at the IID, presented the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative at the event organized by Comité Civico del Valle and Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto.
This initiative seeks to develop more than 1,500 megawatts of geothermal energy, with solar, wind and biofuel projects to follow in phases following the initial geothermal project.
According to the IID website, the Salton Sea possesses the largest capacity of geothermal energy in the nation. The agency’s leaders believe the initiative would allow for the development of new jobs and economic development.
“IID has a network of air-quality monitors around the Salton Sea. Since the IID spans both sides of the sea, it pretty much does what (the South Coast Air Quality Management District) and (the Air Pollution Control District) do in Riverside and Imperial counties,” said Eduardo Guevara, executive director of Promotores Comunitarios del Desierto. “They have information we need them to share.”
The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when a massive flood caused the Colorado River to burst through an irrigation canal and flow freely for 18 months into what was then known as the Salton Basin. It is a closed basin—which leads to the buildup of salt.
The Salton Sea, for now, is sustained by agricultural water inflow from the various agricultural locations within the Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali valleys. However, it is also evaporating at the same time.
It is important to note, however, that in 2017, an agreement that has led to an annual allotment of Colorado River water being diverted into the Salton Sea will end. The lack of incoming water will worsen the water-quality and air-pollution problems that are already prevalent. Year by year, the sea will slowly dry up, meaning pesticides, salts and fertilizers that have settled on the seabed will be exposed. Therefore, fine dust and toxins will become more airborne than they already are, thus endangering the health of the public, various agricultural fields and other parts of the local economy.
The IID initiative would create a renewable energy source in the Salton Sea, which would, in turn, provide some groundcover in the sea.
While the sea’s future depends on cooperation and deliberation by agencies and environmental leaders, the residents of the eastern Coachella Valley can aid in the effort to sustain the health and economy of the region by attending meetings and gatherings like the Environmental Health Leadership Summit.
“Ask, demand and be present,” urges Guevara. “Leaders are nothing without the people backing them up. They need to start demanding solutions and making elected officials accountable.”
To learn more about the IID’s Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative, visit www.iid.com/index.aspx?page=663.
Johnny Flores Jr. is a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth-media group in the east Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorpaorated.org.