At roughly 350 square miles in size and with more than 115 miles of shoreline, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake.
And that’s not all.
With the lake surface some 230 feet below sea level, it’s the second lowest spot in the U.S., trailing only Death Valley. It’s salty – 25 percent more than the Pacific Ocean – and getting saltier. And it’s a paradise for birds – home to more than 400 species and a prime rest stop for millions of waterfowl migrating each year along the Pacific Flyway.
But the Salton Sea is in trouble.
The shallow lake, which gets its water from nearby rivers and rain, has struggled for years with increasing salinity as well as pollution from agricultural runoff. But what has been a challenge is about to become a major crisis, when much of the water from those rivers is scheduled to be diverted to the thirsty coastal cities of Southern California, exposing large swaths of lake bed and creating what many experts say will be an ecological and human health disaster.
Does the Salton Sea have a prayer?
Bryan Williams thinks so – and he’s doing something about it. Not only is he himself praying, but as director of the Salton Sea Prayer Community he’s helped bring together people from hundreds of churches, businesses, government agencies and community organizations – and his fellow Pinnacle Forum Partners – to unite in asking God to save their sea.
And Bryan himself is amazed at the calling God gave him – and the response from people across the spheres of influence.
“If someone told me four years ago that I would be gathering business leaders, leaders of Indian tribes, pastors of both English and Spanish churches, civic leaders and elected officials and would have the support of a close knit Pinnacle Forum and the Audubon Society to help revitalize a shrinking sea, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible,” he says.
After all, the Salton Sea wasn’t exactly on Bryan’s radar as he worked in the world of finance, including creating a pair of wealth and fund management firms, while living in upscale Newport Beach on the shores of the Pacific.
In 2013 he and his wife sold their home and headed several hours east to the Coachella Valley, known for its retirement and resort communities such as Palm Springs, its desert climate and its world-class golf courses. And, as Bryan would learn, the Salton Sea.
Bryan was introduced to Chuck Bryant at a Barnabas event, and he soon became part of Pinnacle Forum’s new Coachella Valley Chapter, eventually serving as its executive director.
His Pinnacle Forum connection would play a key role in discovering and executing on a passion for praying for the Salton Sea.
After a friend told him of a local congressman’s request that they “pray for the Salton Sea,” Bryan invited him to the Forum in La Quinta. And just as he had, the members quickly realized the seriousness of the situation.
Starting January 1, much of the water that flows into the sea will be diverted to the San Diego metropolitan area to the west. That is expected to create 100,000 acres of dry lake bed, which in turn will produce noxious odors and toxic dust, creating a serious health hazard for humans and killing off hundreds of thousands of fish and birds. And while the state has a long-term plan to restore some of the exposed lake bed, the money simply isn’t there to alleviate the coming health crisis in a region that already has the highest asthma rate in the state.
The Pinnacle Forum Partners decided to tour the area, and as they did, they stopped to pray at each stop. But that was just the start.
“We (the Forum) then partnered with “Lighthouses of the Valley,” now called the “LOV Movement,” a coalition of 100 English-speaking and 100 Spanish- speaking churches. We brought together 60 leaders of business, church and government to hear about the sea, pray and break bread together,” Bryan explains. “Pinnacle Forum members spoke, there were financial sponsors, a member managed the production team, and every Forum member engaged the other leaders.”
Meetings and rallies are held regularly at the sea, in Sacramento and throughout communities in the Coachella Valley. A documentary, “Breaking Point: The Story of the Salton Sea,” has been produced. And most recently, churches throughout the valley observed “Salton Sea Sunday” on September 10, during which people offered five prayers: For God’s help in solving the looming crisis; for strategies to make air and water safe; for wisdom for leadership in allocating resources; for healing for many already suffering from asthma; and for people to serve others touched by the sea. The next one is planned for Sunday, October 15.
While others in the “save the sea” effort are focused on pushing for political and governmental solutions – including legislation to provide initial funding for the restoration plan – for Bryan and others it all starts with prayer.
“We’ve had difficulty in the past solving the problem of the Salton Sea … I believe because we’ve not had enough prayer for it,” Bryan explained during a recent radio interview.
“Prayer is the beginning of results, especially the internal results,” he continued in that interview. “We started with the idea of doing a walk around the sea. Someday we may do that, but we want to begin with prayer.”
While the Salton Sea is a major crisis for the people who live and work nearby, every community has its own challenges. And Bryan sees a great opportunity – and need – for Pinnacle Forum men and women to be part of the solutions.
“Intentionally listen for God’s leading,” he advises his Pinnacle Forum peers. “Pay attention to what is moving your heart to action. Watch for God’s favor. Discuss hopes and fears, threats and opportunities with other Pinnacle Forum members. Believe in the faithfulness of God. Ask others to pray regularly for you.”
For more on the Salton Sea Prayer Initiative, contact Bryan Williams at bryan.williams@pinnacleforum.