The Salton Sea Initiative
Director: Dr. Timothy Bradley
Initiative Funding Period: December 2013 – December 2016
The UCI Salton Sea Initiative was created to tackle the complex problems present at the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland body of water located on the border of Riverside and Imperial counties.
The Salton Sea represents a slow-moving environmental, public health, and economic disaster for California. The Salton Sea has grown more saline over the years, 1.7 times that of the ocean, due to agriculture runoff and water evaporation. On windy days, the surrounding salt flats give rise to clouds of salty, alkaline dust that affects the health of hundreds of thousands of residents of the Coachella and Imperial Valleys. The dust contains fine particles which can lodge in the lungs producing emphysema, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.
The Salton Sea is adjacent to the Imperial Valley, an agricultural powerhouse, producing 80% of all winter vegetables grown in the US. It is also home to hundreds of thousands of birds, including endangered bird species protected by the Migratory Bird Act.
The Problem: Due to previously established water agreements, water will be withdrawn from the Imperial Valley and sent to more urban water districts. As a result of these withdrawals, the Salton Sea will shrink rapidly, leaving behind dry beaches referred to as playa. These will be a source of highly toxic dust affecting the health of hundreds of thousands of Californians living in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.
The Salton Sea Initiative ended in Spring 2017. Dr. Bradley’s research continues, however, and is supported by the Ayala School of Biological Sciences with additional funding from donations and grants.
The UCI Academic Initiative program seeks to unravel some of the world’s most challenging problems through cross-discipline collaboration.
Below are some of the program highlights.
Twenty faculty participants from across campus and their students conducted research on:
- Biological Remediation
- Nutrient Removal
- Public Health Issues
- Carbon Balance
- Land Use
- Regional Planning
- Water Allocation
Graduate Student Research
- Engineering- Examining desalination techniques at the Sea
- Social Ecology – economic impact of the decline of the Sea on real estate values
- Business – economics of the salt industry
- Provided curricular material in STEM education
- Guided field trips to the Sea and geothermal plants
- Organized a science fair for High School students
- Students connected via Skype with UCI students to prepare
- For three years, the Initiative hosted an alternative spring break for ten UCI students to learn about sustainability issues at the Sea
Government Agency Workshop
Workshop attended by managers of water districts, irrigation districts and air quality districts, as well as members of the US Fish & Wildlife, US Geological Survey, and the California Natural Resources projects. The results of these workshops are now being considered for funding at the US Department of Interior.
Dr. Bradley testified at the following hearings:
- Legislative hearings on geothermal energy
- Little Hoover Commission – investigation of State efforts at Salton Sea mitigation
Dr. Bradley appointed to the Science Advisory Committee by the Governors office