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By Bonnie Gendron, Coordinator and George Courser,  Director,  Back Country Coalition

As the Salton Sea is siphoned off, toxic dust storms pose health hazards for East County

Photo: Dead fish at Salton Sea; Wikipedia creative commons image by Gentle

June 12, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)--Ignoring Governor Jerry Brown's threats of hefty fines, several San Diego water districts have actually surpassed their previous years' monthly water use. Lip service by water districts has been tolerated at state level, excuses abound, water waste is evident yet the faucets still flow and massive non-irrigation continues undiminished.

The water use numbers are in - and they are not pretty, or healthy for East County.

Check your own water district below.

City of San Diego reduction goal 16%: Savings Achieved: 2%

San Dieguito WD reduction goal 28%  Savings Achieved:  0%

Valley Center W  reduction goal  36% Savings Achieved:  1%

So what's the problem?  How does water waste impact East County communities?

Unmentioned by San Diego water agencies, residents of East County and much of San Diego face threats of swirling toxic dust and airborne insecticides from a dying Salton Sea as detailed in the following article: 

The problem is actually the world's largest basin of toxic substances lies in East County's backyard: The Salton Sea. The ever-shrinking Sea has until recently only been the concern of think tanks, biology professors and sickened local Imperial Valley residents.

On recurring occasions, wind across the Sea has spewed horribly nauseating gases reaching L.A., causing widespread alarm. The concern stopped there, considered a repulsive nuisance...never reaching the thought that corrective actions had to be taken. The scale of this environmental blunder is now being recognized, if not acted on, throughout Southern California.

We'll be plain spoken and blunt. The water now being piped away from Imperial Valley was once the irrigation runoff that fed the Sea, keeping its toxic dusts dissolved in brined soup. 

Shutting down that supply of irrigation runoff has conspired with 100 years' accumulation of insecticides, herbicides, salts and fertilizers exposing the drying sea beds and adjacent residents an air quality hell. A crusty "playa" of lung damaging <.10 micron particles are quietly being scooped into the air as the receding shoreline exposes more poisons daily.

Humans have no protection or bodily filters capable of preventing these tiny particles from entering lungs and bloodstream. Increases in asthma, lung cancer and heart health will be a direct and unpreventable result of continued apathy and inaction.

There are water agencies such as Imperial Irrigation District that have acted responsibly, attempting to plan and provide solutions for this impending crisis. Unfortunately, none in San Diego County has cooperated.  Under the San Diego County Water “Authority," all liability and damage are being focused on the State, while we fill our reservoirs with Colorado River water.  Of course we require clean drinking water, but San Diego cannot continue to ignore the destructive assaults on our ability to breathe by ignoring the drying Salton Sea.

The air quality disaster brewing has been compared to the Owens Valley dust storms when their water was diverted to L.A. The Salton Sea dwarfs the Owens Valley Lake area both in size and toxicity. For a more apt comparison, see the detailed account of the desiccation of the Aral Sea caused by human intervention in 1960:

In Salton, the chemical and dissolved dust load are present in such staggering quantities that remedies - aside from adding water back into the Salton Sea - are almost unfathomable. Refilling the Sea is clearly what has to be accomplished.

 The problem facing East County residents is that they will be the first and most heavily affected by the toxic dust from the dried sea beds. Please see the link below to learn how close the Salton Sea pollution is to your residence via Santa Ana winds, or those rare inversion layers we're experiencing. 

 Considering that 60 MPH Santa Ana winds are not infrequent, how long would it take for one wind event to bring pollutants from the toxic Salton Sea bed to your home?

Check the air travel distance from your home to the Salton Sea. Ramona is 59 miles away.

 This is a problem that is a certain and documented health disaster in the making.  Please contact your district supervisor, state legislators, and federal representatives requesting their attention and action.  Write letters to editors, call in to radio or TV talk shows.  Respectfully demand this potentially dire health emergency issue be placed on their current agendas.  Solutions can and must be found.

We have the power to awaken our leaders and every voice counts.  Your help is urgently needed.

The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact

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