California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, has been sustained by water from the Colorado River which irrigates Imperial Valley farms and drain into the lake. But the Salton Sea will start shrinking rapidly at the end of this year, when increasing amounts of water will be diverted to San Diego and Coachella Valley. As the lake shrinks, particulate matter in the form of dust storms will increasingly blow from the exposed lakebed, polluting the Imperial Valley’s already dirty air and intensify a public health crisis.
Additionally, the Salton Sea is a major stopover for birds on the Pacific Flyway. Over 400 bird species have been observed on the Salton Sea. In California, around 90% of the wetlands have dried up so these migratory birds have far fewer places to rest and refuel. As the water level in the Salton Sea continues to decrease, the water becomes saltier and fish begin to die off. As water continues to dwindle, precious food sources for birds no longer support the flights of these migrating birds.
To address this complex issue, LDF has partnered with a group that has been working in Imperial County since 1987 to improve the lives of communities located in the Salton Sea Air Basin. In 2016, Comite Civico del Valle (CCV) launched the largest air monitoring network in the U.S., an environmental justice project that fills in gaps in the data collected by government agencies and allows people to sign up for local air pollution alerts. The network, Identifying Violations Affecting Communities or IVAN, is shifting the conversation in California. The intention is to institutionalize this type of monitoring as the most feasible approach to getting real time information to communities on the changing climate, fill data gaps by more affordably deploying greater monitoring density, and collect data that can be used for performance measures for programs that are intended to reduce greenhouse gasses and to measure real-time results of climate investments in disadvantaged communities.