If Salton Sea isn't restored with ocean water, cleanup could worsen climate change

·3 min read

If we’re not careful, the well-intentioned effort to restore the Salton Sea could have serious adverse consequences: large emissions of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change.

A recent report by Jenny Ross, an attorney and writer working on a long-term research project about the Salton Sea, warns that many of the proposed long-range restoration plans will cause large emissions of carbon dioxide and methane.

Studies of other drying lakes around the world have found these atmosphere-warming gasses come from large deposits of carbon-rich organic matter that were trapped and secured under deep water, and are later released from the exposed dry lakebed. Emissions increase with shallow water habitats and from exposed lake beds that are further disturbed by “furrowing” used as a dust control measure.

The potential greenhouse gas emissions from the large areas of the Salton Sea's dry exposed lakebed are immense: over 26 million metric tons of CO2 every year. This means one and a half times the emissions put out by all of California's 14 petroleum refineries, or 7.2% of all of the state's CO2 emissions.

And that estimate does not include methane emissions from highly saline brine sinks such as within the Perimeter Lake, another non-water-import plan. Methane causes up to 80 times more warming than carbon dioxide.

To minimize carbon emissions, the state agencies overseeing the Salton Sea Management Program need to incorporate this scientific knowledge into its 10-year plan.

Chuck Parker, left, and Feliz Nunez
Chuck Parker, left, and Feliz Nunez

Our public health demands review by a panel of qualified scientists, so that long-range plans be caneutral or even carbon negative. If California instead implements plans at the Salton Sea that cause major increases in greenhouse gasses, the drought will get worse, putting public health in greater danger from hotter temperatures and blowing dust.

The Salton Sea Coalition is asking Coachella Valley city councils to continue their support of ocean water import to refill the Salton Sea. This is the long-range plan most likely to restore the ecosystem, protect public health, support recreation and tourism, contribute to a vigorous regional economy and avoid ongoing releases of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

All health-conscious residents, please call or write your representatives and urge them to support these resolutions:

  • The UC Santa Cruz Ocean Water Importation Independent Review Panel must consider potential carbon emissions when conducting the "comprehensive analysis of ocean water import" that was requested by our city in 2019 and 2020 resolutions. This analysis must include emissions from a drying lakebed and proposed shallow water bodies as well as construction related emissions.

  • The Long-Range Planning Committee of the Salton Sea Management Program must assess potential carbon emissions of all other long-range solutions under consideration to address the man-made problems of the Salton Sea.

  • Our continued support of ocean water import to refill the Salton Sea. This is the long-range plan most likely to restore the ecosystem, protect public health, support recreation and tourism, contribute to a vigorous regional economy, and avoid ongoing releases of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.

Chuck Parker (pchuck48@gmail.com) and Feliz Nunez (fmnunez@dc.rr.com) are members of the Salton Sea Coalition.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Salton Sea restoration must not worsen climate change | Column