In summary

We continue to see no action or purposeful decision-making to prioritize the needs and public health of communities around the Salton Sea.

By Sandra Ramirez

Sandra Ramirez is a community advocate from Coachella, sandra113075@gmail.com.

Christian Mendez, Special to CalMatters

Christian Mendez is a community advocate from Desert Shores, mendezchris5@gmail.com.

We represent a group of East Coachella Valley residents optimistic about the future of the Salton Sea and the surrounding communities. That is why we are working to ensure our communities see meaningful benefits from the sea’s restoration.

On Sept. 30, we sent a letter to state officials requesting that restoration projects coming out of the Salton Sea Management Program consider the potential impacts on nearby communities. We hope those officials will share in our vision of reforestation and green spaces around the Salton Sea, see the benefits of such projects in addressing the sea’s deteriorating environmental conditions, and act with the same urgency.

We have seen plans for the Salton Sea dilute the human effect of its decline. We continue to see inaction and a lack of purposeful decision-making to prioritize the needs and public health of surrounding communities. Not only do we see an inequitable distribution of projects for dust suppression and habitat conservation 17 years after the 2003 water transfer agreement was signed, but the projects are also missing the community’s vision and voice. 

It has taken years of advocacy for North Shore, Salton City and other northern communities to get enough attention to secure mitigation projects. When they do, they are on the back end of implementation. 

Our dream is for the Salton Sea to be a healthy environment. This includes the protection and well-being of residents and preservation of the area’s wildlife. Any restoration project must honor existing legal obligations and the collective will of residents. Any approach must take into account the principles of environmental justice, which calls for fairness regardless of race, color, national origin or income in the development of projects and regulations, and prioritize communities close to the Salton Sea.

The environment impacts a community in ways beyond health. It is an educational tool and represents a system of values. The words “ecology” and “economy” are both rooted in the Greek word “Oikos,” which means home. These concepts work hand in hand. If the environment isn’t healthy, families can be hit with diseases. When people have to stop working and invest time in taking care of themselves or ill relatives, the home economy suffers even more.  

Respiratory diseases, asthma, skin diseases, infantile nose bleeds and poor mental health are just some of the health issues afflicting residents around the Salton Sea. That is why we want to prioritize the health and well-being of residents. 

We can do this by creating a climate with good air quality driven by new recreational spaces where families can take advantage of the beautiful Salton Sea. We recommend that this happen through greening, reforesting, trails, thermal comfort infrastructure, improving the water quality in the sea, and other social and climate-resilient projects.

Our vision is to create a healthy living space for all generations. Many families living in the communities that surround the Salton Sea have chosen this region because it offers affordable housing. For many, the low cost and access to work mean these communities are the only option.

That is why our communities must be part of the decisions around improving the Salton Sea. We know there is great potential for the Salton Sea area. Let’s make sure the people closest to the sea benefit.

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Other CalMatters commentary on the Salton Sea: A greater sense of urgency needed for crises at the Salton Sea

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