The Salton Sea: a time-bomb amid California drought

The sun sets as water birds fly near Red Hill Marina at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015
The sun sets as water birds fly near Red Hill Marina at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015

At first sight the Salton Sea looks putrid, with dead fish scattered among patches of fetid water in a vast salty lake in the middle of the Californian desert.

In the fourth year of a historic drought in the western United States, some say the wetland is an environmental time bomb.

But, on closer inspection, its beauty and fertility come through.

As the sun sets on the —a former upscale vacation playground—hundreds of pelicans, seagulls and ducks perform an aerial ballet against the iridescent sky, reflected in the mirror-like water.

"The reputation of the Sea always smelling, ringed by or dead birds is wrong," said Bruce Wilcox, an official with the Imperial Irrigation District, a local water-management agency.

The sea, which sees some 400 species of migratory birds pass through, was born from a civil engineering accident in 1905, which led to an overflowing of the Colorado River.

It lies 71 meters above sea level, south of Joshua Tree National Park, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Los Angeles.

In the 1950s and 60s, the banks of the Salton Sea were a playground for southern California's rich set, who would come for water-ski-ing, yacht-racing and fishing.

At the time it was more than 50 kilometers in length and 20 wide.

"There used to be lots of ski-ing and fishing, four marinas, and so many people you couldn't put a towel on the beach," said Larry Wienebock, a retired trucker, sitting in the garage of his small house on Bombay Beach.

From 1970, the Salton Sea began to shrink, leading to a surge in salinity and a reduction in depth which ended its days as a fis
From 1970, the Salton Sea began to shrink, leading to a surge in salinity and a reduction in depth which ended its days as a fishing and boating haven

Unparalleled disaster

This former seaside resort today looks like a ghost town, its beach marred by an earth mound and scattered with the wrecks of cars and rusting metal of all sorts.

From 1970, the Salton Sea began to shrink, leading to a surge in salinity and a reduction in depth which ended its days as a fishing and boating haven.

The yacht club, fishing stores and other shops closed, in an ever-accelerating decline.

"California is in the midst of an historic drought," said Tim Krantz, professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands.

To make matters worse, in 2017 a complex agreement which shares water from the Colorado River comes to an end, leading to an expected further decrease in water flowing into the Sea.

Wilcox said the body of water will lose a third of its surface area in just a few years, while its bed of sand mixed with sediments of cadmium, phosphates, fertilizer and insecticides will spread further, carried by frequent storms.

Krantz said: "The Salton Sea is like a soccer field with only 2 centimeters of water in it. It is supersensitive on any reduction of inflow.

The former seaside resort of today looks like a ghost town, its beach marred by an earth mound and scattered with the wrecks of
The former seaside resort of today looks like a ghost town, its beach marred by an earth mound and scattered with the wrecks of cars and rusting metal of all sorts

"It would be an air quality disaster unparalleled in the world," he said, a stark warning in a region inhabited by some 1.5 million people.

Cases of asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory conditions could surge in an area where they are already four times the national average. Not to mention the billions of dollars in agricultural revenues threatened, and real estate prices which risk collapsing.

"If the Sea dries up it's going to be uninhabitable because of the dust here, throughout the whole Coachella Valley," said Randy Rynearson, the salt-and-pepper grizzled owner of an ironmonger's store in Salton City.

The consequences for the ecosystem could be even more catastrophic, decimating the few fish who remain in the Sea, as well as birds deprived of a key stopping off point on their migratory flight path.

Local public bodies, environmental militants and researchers are trying everything to convince California's government to act, and to free up funds.

Numerous projects have been launched—some more realistic than others—such as the construction of pipework bringing water from the Pacific or the Gulf of California.

These projects would cost between five and 10 million dollars.

But a study by the Pacific Institute said the cost of inaction would be even higher, at $20 billion to $70 billion, not to mention the risks of interminable legal action by residents falling sick from a a long-expected disaster.


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Citation: The Salton Sea: a time-bomb amid California drought (2015, March 26) retrieved 16 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-03-salton-sea-time-bomb-california-drought.html
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Mar 26, 2015
The place is not dead yet. The airport is active, and my brother's hangar is next that of Darrell Greenameyer, and some MiG-owning foreigner is on the other side. Some exotic aircraft there.

Mar 26, 2015
The place is not dead yet. The airport is active, and my brother's hangar is next that of Darrell Greenameyer, and some MiG-owning foreigner is on the other side. Some exotic aircraft there.
Dude the topic is not airports or name dropping your brothers airplane neighbors. If you want to talk about your wonderful life why don't you try Facebook?

Hey I taught you the difference between deflagration and detonation in this thread.
http://phys.org/n...ion.html

-What else don't you know? (Lots)

Mar 26, 2015
Ever been there, otto? Or are you just bleating whatever you can invent?

Do I have to look up the source for the discussion of the Fukushima Unit Three detonation for you?

Ask Eikka to do it for you.

Mar 26, 2015
So, what do we do about the Salton Sea? If we do not act, the contamination will be tremendous. We can see that already in the Aral Sea and other places.

Scrape the salts into piles and deal with them as potential resources? Then use the area for PV and wind power?

Mar 26, 2015
"Refill it, the way it was initially formed."
----------------------------------------

Got water?

Mar 26, 2015
"The wetland"? hardly, Salton Sea is an accident.

Mar 27, 2015
From the article: "These projects would cost between five and 10 million dollars." If that's all it would take, some rich developer should jump at the chance.

Mar 27, 2015
From the article: "These projects would cost between five and 10 million dollars." If that's all it would take, some rich developer should jump at the chance.


That's a typo, it should be billions.

Up until around 1500 what is now the the Salton Sea was a fresh water lake that supported approximately 100,000 native Americans.

It doesn't matter how or why the present Salton Sea was formed but doing nothing is a recipe for environmental, economic and a public health disaster.

Mar 27, 2015
Just like Mono Lake, it has been ruined by the greed and selfish behavior of Los Angeles water pirates.

Mar 28, 2015
Are you guys nuts? The Salton Sea DID NOT exist until the early 20th century. A damn break flooded the area, creating the Salton Sea. It also has never been used as a water source for LA or other cities, like Mono Lake.

Mar 28, 2015
Are you guys nuts? The Salton Sea DID NOT exist until the early 20th century. A damn break flooded the area, creating the Salton Sea. It also has never been used as a water source for LA or other cities, like Mono Lake.


@rick cavaretti

No one is disputing the current formation of the Salton Sea. But the Salton Sink has been the site of past fresh water lakes and before that an extension of the Sea of Cortez.

http://www.scienc...8390042X

Mar 28, 2015
I used to own a number of scholarly papers on the geology, archaeology and paleontology of the Colorado Desert but gave them away a few years ago. Doing a very quick Google Scholar search i couldn't them but did find more information on the Salton Sink.

http://www.sci.sd...lla.html

Mar 28, 2015
To the best of my knowledge there are only two proposed plans to save the Salton Sea, both problematic, especially the first, diverting Colorado River water already at reduced flow throughout its watershed isn't going to happen IMHO.

http://www.kcet.o...sea.html

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