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President Obama Is Saving The Salton Sea In His Spare Time

A tree killed by rising salt water is seen beyond a mud flat at dawn on the east shore of the Salton Sea on October 22, 2005 across the lake from Salton City, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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California's largest lake has been edging toward environmental disaster amid the historic drought, but the Salton Sea is about to get a hand from President Obama. The president unveiled plans for the federal government to support the long-embattled body of water Wednesday while out west for an annual climate summit in Lake Tahoe.

The federal government committed to spending $30 million on Salton Sea restoration efforts over the next decade, pledged in a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the California Natural Resources Agency. The new partnership between the federal Department of the Interior and state agencies will facilitate and catalyze a number of programs to help with projects at the Salton Sea, along with operation and maintenance of something called the Backbone, which will take flows from nearby rivers and distribute them to wildlife and air mitigation projects as the sea recedes. The federal government will explore whether they can buy geothermal power from the area, along with a number of other efforts to advance renewable energy development in the region.

What's Happening At The Salton Sea?

"We’re going to reverse the deterioration of the Salton Sea before it's too late, and that's going to help a lot of folks all across the West," the president said during his remarks, according to The Desert Sun.

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"There's the financial part, but I think the bigger significance of the [agreement] is that for the first time we have—in a document—the coordinated activities that the state and the feds will engage in order to address issues down at the sea," Joaquin Esquivel, assistant secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency, told LAist.

The shrinking lake is at a tipping point for environmental degradation. According to a report from nonprofit water think tank the Pacific Institute, if nothing is done the amount of water flowing into the lake will decrease by almost half over the next fifteen years, salinity will triple, and the dwindling lake will expose 100 square miles of dust-generating lake bottom to the region's notoriously strong winds, which would be calamitous for the already poor air quality in the region. The public health toll would be particularly hazardous for 650,000 people who live in harm’s way of the Salton Sea’s dust, as well as the wildlife that depends on the lake.

(Graphic via Wikimedia Commons)
The financial ramifications of inaction would also be enormous. The Pacific Institute hypothesized that the state could face up to $70 billion in costs over the next three decades if nothing is done, stemming from diminished recreational revenue and property devaluation as well as worsening air quality and the loss of a valuable ecological habitat.Located more than 230 feet below sea level in one of the hottest deserts in country, the modern-day Salton Sea was created by a 1905 levee disaster that returned water to what had been an ancient lake bed. The lake was briefly a stylish resort getaway in the 1960s and '70s but those days have long since passed and it's now (in)famous for its not-so-nice odor and the masses of rotting, dead fish done in by its high salinity.

In other news, we miss you already President Obama.

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