The West Shores Restoration Project At Desert Shores
Updated: Jan 23, 2020
We have come to invite you to join us, to just add water to our communities at the Salton Sea.
Instead of death in dry browns and reds; life in wet blues and greens. These truths exist at every scale.
Since our founding of The EcoMedia Compass and Save Our Sea! Campaign at the Salton Sea in 2011, we have witnessed big plans come and go. We have seen the Natural Resources Agency, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of the Interior, Utility Companies and Politicos run through staffing terms and continually say whatever they could to assuage the increasingly informed publics to remain docile. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars on studies, consultants and legal fees, while to the eyes of a withering human or bird on the shore, get absolutely nothing done. One of the most resilient wetlands I do know of at the Salton Sea though, was reportedly created by duck hunters armed with cement chunks, carpet rolls, shovels and beer over a few hot weeks. It’s birdy, beautiful, and one of the few places on 100 miles of shoreline you can still simply use a trailered boat launch.
Respiratory and other unseen illnesses are on the steep upturn, while sell-ability and financing options are becoming ever more challenging for locals who bought into their piece of the American Dream. We’ve seen the water in the silted canals in Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach and Salton City turn from blue to green, to brown, to yellow to brown again and bright red. The formerly swimmable backyard habitat is now just a few inches deep and hyper saline, hosting only bacterial and invertebrate life. Docks are bent and broken, and stinging, stinky, salty dust sweeps up from the channels. Homeowners now rejoice when occasional birds mistake their yards for inviting.
There are countless resources for prosperity here; suffering is simply not necessary. Restoration, sustainability and renewable energy production brings long-term jobs, businesses, tourism and economic vitality. This place holds every opportunity to be treated as California’s Green New Deal. Seed funding for the groups that have already been working in the community for years could literally move mountains.
As former Mayor of the West Shores - (Salton City, Vista del Mar, Salton Sea Beach and Desert Shores), I’ve seen so many businesses and dreams shuddered. None of the state-sponsored projects in planning or litigation had been designed where any people actually live, and we have seen major degradation in quality of life for so many residents and businesses after the 2003-2021 QSA water transfers that continue to grow by volume annually.
Since 2011, we’ve operated restoration center offices in the West Shores, hosted, sponsored and organized countless public educational events, awareness actions, media publications, community beautification projects and trips to Sacramento.
Seeing as the governmental systems and elected officials we’ve trusted to take on promised restoration efforts haven’t found enough motivation for collaboration to get hardly anything of significance actually built, we decided to organize an effort ourselves, come hell or high water.
Shoreline residents, The EcoMedia Compass and Agess Inc. mostly, have spent over three years as volunteers organizing the West Shores Restoration Project at Desert Shores. We even built a monster-pump-boat named Poseidon, but a more permanent option was needed. The area on the Northwest Shore of Salton Sea bordering Torres-Martines tribal land has also been called: The Keys, The Fingers or The Harbor Project. It has taken many regular community-organizing and political meetings to keep this in the spotlight, but it is starting to really move. Other groups and agencies are getting involved too; seeing that this is a project that sits as “the lowest hanging fruit” with some of the sweetest immediate benefits to the region. It can also act as a template for other areas at the Salton Sea on varying scales.
We have finally acquired the land needed to build it at 3713 Capri Rd. Imperial Irrigation District certainly, intentionally, took their time, but did something quite amicable by that donation of 1/2 an acre to our 501c3. We agreed to never sell it for a profit, but instead build a space and project that will benefit the deserving community and wildlife. It has been created to do the most good for residents and environment, in the most cost-effective way possible. Since that time, we have had many local residents and volunteers out to see the ground zero and help in planning for community restoration initiatives, as well as host annual Earth Day community arts and science events in the area. This year we are planning for noon on Saturday, April 25th at the 3713 Capri Ln. site in Desert Shores… You’re invited. Bring shovels.
The California Natural Resources agency has been the State’s main organizational involvement over the last few years, and has agreed to fund, build and complete phase 1 of the project in collaboration with other agencies. Imperial County has drafted a MOU for the build-financing protocol and it’s now back to CNRA for legal deliberations. With any reasonable effort by the State, Phase 1 of the project will be completed this year. The actual construction should take less than a week once they let each other set a tractor on the beach.
Our volunteer team has been told by the State and County to halt our engineering and permitting efforts so more funded and organized governmental agencies can take over and get Phase 1 of the project done. We are cautiously quite excited, but know that watchdogs and cheerleaders are still much-needed.
Phase 1 of West Shores restoration at Desert Shores has included 3 main points: 1. Solve how the 28 acres of canals will be maintained with a sustainable fill of water at project site for at least 30 years.
2. Floating or fixed constant pumping system, in from the main body of the Salton Sea, utilizing renewable power, conveyance, sufficient outflow and aeration.
3. A reusable (GeoTube-style fillable bladder) berm- which could someday be turned or moved to connect to a Perimeter or North Lake, or after Seawater Import.
This leads our groups to Phase 2, which includes organizing and designing the systems that will improve water quality and salinity allowing for returned deep-water habitat, as well as designing a community benefit restoration center. Since first coming to the Salton Sea, I’ve dreamed to help lead creation of a place, a forum, a resource, that will always take care of this region from an environmental and community perspective. In a landscape so impacted by massive, controversial infrastructure decisions and changing climate, the need for this will likely continue to grow with each passing year.
We envision much more for the whole Salton Sea and West Shores than one canal community refilled though. This project can be replicated to other existing channels, and is an example of what long term restoration can mean. If we ensure a sustainable water supply for future generations, there are countless options for restoration and revitalization, habitat and homes. Seawater import flowing downhill 230 feet from the ocean for example, could do this on a much larger scale. The Coyote Canal in Mexico already exists for close to half the distance required from the ocean, and Mexico is quite willing to work with the US and California governments if we can get organized, and over pompous political assumptions. There are lucrative markets for salt, and renewably-powered desalination on whatever scale can provide solutions to our waining water supplies. It then becomes unlimited. Other projects that have been gaining ground in recent years are the State’s 10-Year Plan, the North Lake, and the Perimeter Lake plan. All of these have the ability to flourish and compliment each other with enough water.
There is no one-piece answer to all of the challenges in the Imperial Valley and Salton Sea region, but we believe that a sustainable water supply gives us the most tools for economic and environmental stability for generations to come. We need to plan far, far ahead of the turning terms of our next political leaders. We need to build what will outlive us, and Desert Shores is a great way to start.
By planning for longevity, and driving with camaraderie and action, together we can definitely still, Save Our Sea!
Kerry F. Morrison
The EcoMedia Compass
West Shores Chamber of Commerce Board
Former Mayor, West Shores Salton Sea