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Home > Feature Articles > Landscaping > Plants and Habitat Strategies for Sustainable Landscaping

Salton Sea Reclamation of Habitat Wetlands

Salton Sea reclamation starts with vision and a demo project

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Salton Sea

Salton Sea Restoration

While California's state plan is still on the drawing board for restoring the Salton Sea, Debi Livesay's demonstration project is up and running.

The Salton Sea, California's biggest lake, is saltier than the ocean and getting saltier all the time.

"This is the first microcosm of what all of the rest of the plans call for around the sea," said Dan Parks, coordinator for the Salton Sea Authority. "Scientists have an idea of what they need, but there is a lot of stuff they can't get out of a textbook so you need to get in there and experiment."

Livesay is no scientist. She's a former journalist with a gift for big ideas, a talent for securing grants and total self confidence.

For decades this 85-acre stretch of the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation lay beneath the Salton Sea. As the lake receded, it left behind a salt-encrusted wasteland worthy of Death Valley. Dead trees jutted like bleached skeletons from petrified mud. Even hardy creosote struggled to survive.

Now, thanks to Livesay's seven-year effort to bring back water, it's a lush Eden of wetlands, plants, fish and more than 135 species of birds.

As the Salton Sea dwindles, pesticide-laced sediments have blown over the reservation, exposing thousands of tribal members and other nearby residents to toxic chemicals. In 2001, Livesay, the tribe's head of water resources, was charged with finding a solution.

"We can't afford to have the Salton Sea dry out or people couldn't live here anymore," she said. "It would be 200 times bigger than Owens Lake. All you need is an inch of water to keep the dust settled. So I said, 'Let's make a wetland.' "

Working mostly on her own out of a converted trailer, Livesay won $2.3 million from state and federal agencies and began excavating seven ponds ranging from a few inches to 6 feet deep, and up to 20 acres wide.

Contractors built artificial islands and barriers between pools. Using a complex system of pipes and valves, they diverted water from the Whitewater River, filling and emptying the ponds each day for two years to leach out salt.

Then, in 2005, the valves opened wide and water gushed into the ponds for good. Livesay released young tilapia, mosquito fish and mollies to control insects. She planted native palms.

Nature did the rest.

Livesay expects to open her creation to the public in November under the name "California's Everglades." And she hopes to create 10,000 more acres of wetlands across vast swaths of desiccated lake bed.

Read the rest of the story at LA TIMES

The Salton Sea is California’s Everglades.

One of the attractions of the Sea is the abundance of life, manifested in the hundreds of species of birds that reside in, or visit, this important wetland habitat.

For bird watchers, the Sea is the only place in California where one can see such variety and abundance of herons, egrets, ibises and woodstorks – species also characterizing Florida’s Everglades, but the Salton Sea offers even greater species diversity. More than two thirds of all species of birds in the continental United States have been recorded at the Salton Sea.

The Sea also teems with fish – with an estimated crop of over 200 million fish. That is why some scientists have called the Salton Sea “California’s crown jewel of avian biodiversity” and perhaps the most productive fishery in the world.

This abundance of wildlife is particularly critical given the decline of wetlands. Over 90 percent of the wetlands of California have been lost. As California’s wetlands decline, the importance of the Sea as a habitat for inland wetland species increases. The Sea’s habitats support up to 40 percent of the entire US population of the threatened Yuma clapper rail, 80 to 90 percent of the American white pelican, and 90 percent of the eared grebe.

PROBLEM: Unsustainable use of natural water ecosystems.

SOLUTION: Individual and community action to restore natural systems.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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