Voters approve $200 million for Salton Sea projects

salton sea photoStaff photo

Efforts to clean up the Salton Sea will be getting $200 million, thanks to California voters passing Prop 68, which authorizes a $4.1 billion bond issue to benefit various environmental, conservation and parks projects around the state.

It’s expected the Salton Sea funds will go to revitalize wetlands around the shrinking and increasingly salty inland sea. The wetlands would provide habitat for birds and other wildlife and also help reduce the toxic pollution that now results from the dead fish, agricultural chemicals and other decaying organic matter that are left on the shore as evaporation further shrinks the Salton Sea’s size.

There’s more than just wildlife at stake. Public health officials say the sea is a menace to humans. The┬ásalty, alkaline toxic dust that blows into the air as the shoreline retracts is loaded with heavy metals, agricultural chemicals and powdery-fine particulates that are linked to asthma, respiratory diseases and cancer.

It’s not just a problem for the handful of people who live along the shoreline. The particulate matter can travel great distances as the desert winds blow. Palm Springs residents frequently detect an odd, rotten-egg smell, a sulfurous miasma that drifts upvalley when conditions are right. Expanding wetlands along the shoreline will make it less likely that large amounts of dusty toxins are blowing in the wind.

Imperial County already has the highest rate of asthma-related emergency room visits for children in California and health officials say the state is courting a public health disaster if it does not address the problem.