A great story from the Los Angeles Times.
“It came as a bittersweet surprise to biologists and government agencies monitoring the steadily shrinking Salton Sea’s slide toward death by choking dust storms and salt.
“Thousands of acres of exposed lake bed have become, of all things, the unintended beneficiaries of lush marshlands that are homes for endangered birds and fish at the outlets of agricultural and urban runoff that used to flow directly into the Salton Sea.
“These unmanaged flows, scientists say, are flushing salinity out of the soil and forming freshwater ponds on the lake’s margins, which are attracting cattails and grasses. They, in turn, are attracting insects, which are enticing federally endangered desert pupfish and birds such as the Yuma Ridgway’s rail.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Tom Anderson, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said on a recent weekday, admiring a swath of cattails at the southern end of the lake filled with the chattering sounds of endangered rails creeping through the dense vegetation. “Not exactly the gloom-and-doom apocalypse some people have been predicting for this place, is it?”
“This is not a simple tale of nature’s joyful bounty, however. So unexpected were the wetlands that they may stand as major obstacles to the construction of long-delayed projects designed to restore saltwater fisheries and control clouds of dust rolling off expanses of exposed lake bed.
“The projects include building a series of ponds and water-transfer systems across about 29,000 acres at a cost of about $383 million, officials said. Some of that acreage is suddenly home to wetlands and their endangered inhabitants, which would need to be protected during the course of any development. That could lead to further delays in the restoration projects at a time when air quality and environmental conditions in the area are worsening.
“The state team is coordinating with various partners to survey and inventory these locations,” Arturo Delgado, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, said of the wetlands. “We are evaluating the ability to capitalize on these naturally establishing wetland areas and include them as appropriate in the Salton Sea Management Program.”
“The water level has dropped 7 feet over the last 15 years at the Salton Sea, a non-draining body of water — which is what makes it a sea and not a lake — with no ability to cleanse itself. Trapped in its waters are salt and nutrient-laden agricultural runoff from surrounding farms, as well as metals and bacterial pollution that flow in from Mexico’s New River.
“My recommendation is that folks start managing the flows of runoff and leave a lot of these wetlands alone,” Anderson said. “They’re doing a fine job of suppressing dust and producing entirely new thriving ecosystems at no cost to taxpayers.”
“Yet beneath the cattails lies a murkier story. There are concentrations of selenium in the wetlands and authorities have not done the kinds of studies needed to determine whether they pose a threat to wildlife. Heavy concentrations of selenium have been blamed for bird deaths and deformities in marshlands throughout California.
“Part of the challenge we face now,” said Michael Cohen, co-author of a 2014 Pacific Institute report titled “Hazard’s toll: The costs of inaction at the Salton Sea,” “is that the rate at which the bureaucracy in Sacramento is moving to meet its obligations at the Salton Sea is falling far behind the rate at which its environmental conditions are changing.”
“Christopher Schoneman is the project leader for the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge at the southern tip of California’s largest and most troubled body of water.
“When it comes to habitat and endangered species, the wetlands are a good thing,” he said. “But they may complicate things considerably.”
“Expanding wetlands could affect the first two pieces of a 10-year restoration plan scheduled for completion — both near where the heavily polluted New River flows into the southern end of the lake.”
Retrieved December 10, 2019 from read:https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-12-09/a-new-dilemma-in-the-salton-sea-saga-unintended-marshlands?utm_source