The Future of Bird Ecology at the Salton Sea
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Abstract / Introduction

The  Salton Sea  is California’s largest lake, located 85 miles northeast of San Diego.  More bird species visit the  wildlife refuge at the Salton Sea  each than any other wildlife refuge in the western United States each year,  but imminent water-loss and water quality decline  threaten the future of this ecosystem. The lake is expected to shink to 60% of its current size by 2030, resulting in ecological impacts at the Salton Sea that mimic future climate-change scenarios in regions across the planet, but on a much faster timescale.  Many management solutions have been proposed to address the diversity of issues facing the Salton Sea but, among these, bird ecology is often not the
central focus.

This project is led by David Forney at The Wet Lab, an independent research organization, in collaboration with  AGESS, an environmental restoration management company, and  the EcoMedia Compass. 

Project Overview

Bird ecology is likely the most complex issue facing the Salton Sea, as changes at the Salton Sea have the potential to impact bird populations across the west, from Canada to Mexico.   Numerous solutions have been proposed by many different organizations with varied interests in order to manage bird ecology as well as a myriad of other issues at the Salton Sea.   Understanding how these proposed solutions benefit bird groups at the Salton Sea is important for both determining the efficacy of strategies, as well as projecting possible ecological scenarios in the future.  But the interactions between numerous popular solutions and bird ecology are unclear, and merging all of this information together to provide a clearer view of these relationships is challenging.

The purpose of this project is to:

1) Evaluate the qualitative relationships between various high-level management strategies and the ecological pressures facing birds at the Salton Sea

2) Clearly organize and present this information to the public, decision makers, and project management organizers.


The following results have been achieved already and published:

Working Paper

The working paper ‘Ecological Restoration Potential of Management Strategies at the Salton Sea’ provides the public with with an overview of the issues facing bird ecology at the Salton Sea, and the variety of plans that have been proposed to manage it.  Results were obtained using a dimensional database model to compare the primary needs of birds at the Salton Sea to the potential habitats provided by management strategies.

Main contributions of this paper are as follows:

  • Reviews information for audiences unfamiliar with bird ecology at the Salton Sea and the various strategies that have been proposed to manage it.  Gives the public and stakeholders a sense of the situation at the Salton Sea and the options for moving forward.
  • Estimates the potential for prevailing high-level management strategies to relieve ecological pressure on bird groups at the Salton Sea, after water-diversion policies go into effect in 2018.
  • Results show that some management strategies, such as seawater import without appropriate salinity control, could still put ecological pressure on bird groups and species found at the Salton Sea.
  • Among the four strategies with potential to relieve the most pressure on bird ecology at the Salton Sea, results suggest that  desalination  combined with vegetated wetland creation  may be the most feasible, least expensive strategy, and may also provide additional ecological benefits such as chemical compound control and increased aquatic species biodiversity.
  • Recommends more research to better assess how vegetation influences Selenium dynamics in wetlands when Selenium concentrations are moderate to high, but below EPA limits.
  • Provides a frameworks to measure the exact ecological value of the Salton Sea and considers multiple studies and approaches to do so
  • Provides recent references and studies supporting earlier studies on wetland loss in California, verifying that the state has lost around ~90% of its wetlands.

Interactive Version of Results on Tableau Public

An interactive version of the results have been published on Tableau public, as well as  a short storyboard version of the paper.

To interact with the results, click on any region of the chart to get more information about the bird species affected.

Submission to California Water Board

The paper and its recommendations were recently submitted to the CA water board for its  “Public Workshop on the Salton Sea Management Program and Draft Stipulated Order for Future Action by the State Water Board.”  to be held on Sept 7th, 2017.

Donation Benefits

If you found this paper and results new, informative, and compelling, or would like to contribute to further restoration efforts at the Salton Sea, then please consider making a donation to this project!

Your donation is tax deductible and goes towards:

If you’d like more information about this project or would like to get involved, please contact us here on fundrazr, or check for updates on the project page and reach out there.

5013c info:

The Wet Lab is a  tax-deductible public charity  in the state of California.
EIN #81-4247481


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