In the 1960’s the shores of the Salton Sea were crammed with beach goers and its waters were almost overcrowded with boats and fishermen. It was one of the most popular tourist sites in California, rivaling even Yosemite National Park. The lake, which is 35 miles long and 15 miles wide, straddling Imperial and Riverside counties, serves as a sump for pesticide-laden irrigation runoff.
It has been shrinking in recent years, even with the fresh water infusion. As the lake shrinks, thousands of acres that been underwater become exposed to the air. The resulting contaminated fine dust particles are picked up by wind storms and carried across Southern California.
Team Rubicon, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Imperial Irrigation District have teamed up to undertake a first of its kind restoration project in the Red Hill Bay, a dry playa in the footprint of the shrinking sea. The plan is to cover 420 acres of exposed lake bed, an area that until recently was inundated by the Salton Sea, with water from the nearby Alamo River, creating wetland habitat for migratory birds and suppressing the toxic dust the would otherwise pollute the air.
The Red Hill Bay Restoration Project, dubbed Team Rubicon’s Operation Salton Sink, will provide heavy equipment operators, deployed as Task Forces, for weekly deployments.
“Over the last 12 months, Team Rubicon has partnered with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Case Equipment to provide heavy equipment training to our volunteers, building a team of heavy equipment instructors and operators, and this operation will capitalize on that investment,” said Team Rubicon’s Deputy Director of Training, Jason Ferguson.
The project will include the construction of a set of low berms across portions of Red Hill Bay, loafing and nesting islands, snags for bird perches as well as deeper water channels and culverts to support invertebrates and potentially fish. The work will be constructed using excavators, a dredge, and/or bulldozers.
Stay tuned for more updates on the impact.