Southern California’s Salton Sea—approximately 232 feet (70 m) below sea level— is one of the world’s largest inland seas. It has 130 miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
The sea was created in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a series of dikes, flooding a salty basin known as the Salton Sink in the Imperial Valley. The sea is an important stopping point for 1 million migratory waterfowl, and serves as critical habitat for birds moving south to Mexico and Central America. Overall, the Salton Sea harbors more than 270 species of birds including ducks, geese, cormorants and pelicans.
Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez on Thursday proposed a $400 million plan to build a horseshoe-shaped lake on the north side of the Salton Sea — and to pay for it using a tax district and a new bond issue subject to voter approval. The proposal calls for a 4,200-acre lake, roughly double the size of Big Bear Lake.
Riverside County officials on Thursday unveiled a possible $400-million remedy for some of what ails the shrinking Salton Sea: record-high salinity levels, die-offs of fish, fewer birds and an immense “bathtub ring” of smelly playa prone to toxic dust storms.
Southern California’s Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, has seen its share of ups and downs since it was accidentally created in 1905 by Colorado River floodwaters. Now, already badly polluted by chemicals from agricultural irrigation runoff, which provides the lake’s inflow, the surrounding shoreline is in danger of becoming a toxic blight.
The Salton Sea is about to start shrinking more rapidly. A 2003 water transfer deal called for the Imperial Irrigation District to deliver “mitigation water” to the lake for 15 years. With those water deliveries ending in the final days of 2017, the lake’s decline will begin to accelerate.
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water managers and others are trying to face the future.
The Coachella Valley’s biggest water district recycles wastewater at three of its six sewage treatment plants, churning out water to irrigate golf courses, parks and lawns at housing developments. Now it’s proposing to reuse more water by converting a sewage plant in Thermal to a water-recycling plant.
In a mere seven weeks, hundreds of thousands of California residents will face a major deadline affecting the health of their families and their communities. On Dec. 31, water deliveries that have been staving off ecological disaster at the Salton Sea for 15 years will come to a halt, leaving an uncertain future for the entire region.
Explore the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
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As the Salton Sea shrinks, California’s problems grow. … For decades the state and stakeholders have contemplated plans for the restoration and management of the lake. Significant progress was made on November 7 when the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) accepted an agreement on a 10-year management plan.
California’s Water Resources Control Board described its new Salton Sea plan as a landmark agreement, but at least one expert is questioning the modified approach, calling it “Band-Aids to a very serious environmental disaster.” With water deliveries from the Colorado River coming to a halt at the end of this year, the shrinking lake will be reduced at an even faster rate, which the state says poses a public health risk due to particulate air pollution by dust blown from the exposed lake bed.
California’s top water regulators adopted an agreement that commits the state to following through on plans of building wetlands and controlling dust around the shrinking Salton Sea over the next 10 years. The order approved Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board sets targets for state agencies in building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control projects around the lake.
California regulators on Tuesday approved a plan to spend nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinking of the state’s largest lake, a vital migratory stop for birds and a buffer against swirling dust in farming towns. Funding for the Salton Sea is unclear but the plan enjoyed support of major water agencies and environmental advocacy groups and preserves a fragile peace among urban and rural areas in California on distributing the state’s share of Colorado River water.
Earlier this month, a proposed bond measure in the California Legislature had included $280 million to pay for building thousands of acres of ponds, wetlands and other dust-control projects around the Salton Sea. This week, after negotiations among lawmakers, the amount earmarked for the Salton Sea was slashed to $200 million.
As state lawmakers debate far-reaching bills that could reshape the energy landscape in California and across the West, some groups are urging the Legislature to require new geothermal power plants at the Salton Sea before a key deadline Tuesday* night — but those groups can’t agree on what the geothermal mandate should look like.
Architects of the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in the nation’s history Thursday gave their blessing to the State Water Resources Control Board’s latest plan to aid the beleaguered Salton Sea. “We think the draft stipulated order is a good faith effort by multiple agencies to thoughtfully balance competing considerations in determining how to best implement a successful Salton Sea restoration strategy,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority during the State Water Board Salton Sea workshop in Sacramento.
With less than four months left until a critical deadline when the Salton Sea will begin to shrink rapidly, residents and activists are pressing for California officials to secure funding and act quickly to avert a costly disaster. Some people who live around the lake are driving to Sacramento for a Thursday meeting of the State Water Resources Control Board …
Five months ago, California outlined a $383 million plan to control dust and build thousands of acres of wetlands around the shrinking Salton Sea. But that plan left agencies in the Imperial Valley unsatisfied because only $80.5 million has been approved so far – and they questioned whether the state would follow through and live up to its commitments over the next 10 years.
It’s been 14 years since California officials first approved the Black Rock power plant, which would have tapped a powerful geothermal reservoir along the shore of the Salton Sea and generated enough climate-friendly electricity to power about 200,000 homes.
The Imperial Irrigation District has been using its clout as the agency with the biggest water entitlement along the Colorado River to press for California officials to live up to their commitment that they will keep the Salton Sea from turning into an environmental disaster.
State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, says the state needs millions more to help protect the [Salton Sea's] sensitive ecosystem. A pair of measures advancing in the Legislature aim to speed up state restoration efforts, and ask voters next year to approve a $500 million general obligation bond to improve environmental and air quality conditions.
The Salton Sea is a disaster in slow motion. For more than a century, California’s largest lake has been sustained by Colorado River water, which irrigates Imperial Valley farms and drains into the lake. But the Salton Sea will start shrinking rapidly at the end of this year, when increasing amounts of river water will be diverted from farms to cities.
A serious asthma crisis is afflicting communities around the Salton Sea. The southeastern corner of California has some of the worst air pollution in the country, where dirt from farmland and the open desert mixes with windblown clouds of toxic dust rising from the Salton Sea’s receding shores.
A decade ago, Guy McCaskie would stand on the shore of the Salton Sea and marvel at the vast masses of birds that congregated on the water and flew overhead. Nowadays he looks out over the lake and is saddened by how few birds he sees.
As California officials struggle to decide on long-term fixes for the receding lake, there’s new momentum around an old idea: importing seawater from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, and using the area’s plentiful geothermal power to desalinate that water. A subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which already operates 10 geothermal plants in the area, is developing a seawater desalination proposal and has pitched it to lawmakers in Sacramento.
California’s largest lake is drying up. The Salton Sea has been shrinking for years, and fish and birds have been dying. The dry lakebed already spews toxic dust into the air, threatening a region with hundreds of thousands of people. And the crisis is about to get much worse.
California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, is an accident. It was created in 1905 when a levee broke on an irrigation canal, flooding a giant desert playa. Today it has become a sticking point in negotiations between three states over the future of the Colorado River. … To help us understand all this, Water Deeply recently spoke with Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water policy think-tank based in Oakland.
Salton Sea advocates on Thursday cautiously celebrated the announcement of a 10-year state plan to complete projects designed to restore areas where migrating birds once proliferated and control toxic dust storms rising off expanses of smelly playa surrounding the shrinking salty lake.
After years of delays, California’s plans for the shrinking Salton Sea are finally starting to take shape. A $383 million plan released by the state’s Natural Resources Agency on Thursday lays out a schedule for building thousands of acres of ponds and wetlands that will cover up stretches of dusty lakebed and create habitat for birds as the lake recedes.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Thursday proposed spending nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinking of the state’s largest lake just as it is expected to evaporate an accelerated pace.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out a game plan for averting serious water shortages along the Colorado River. … Her announcement accompanied a separate accord in which the Interior Department pledged to coordinate with California officials to manage the shrinking Salton Sea …
Several months ago, managers of water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada were expressing optimism they could finalize a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River before the end of the Obama administration.
The California Wildlife Conservation Board has awarded $14 million for Salton Sea wetland habitat restoration to sustain migrating birds and the fish they eat there, state officials announced Thursday, Nov. 17.
The Imperial Irrigation District has given California officials an ultimatum on the Salton Sea, demanding the state finalize a 10-year “roadmap” for the shrinking lake by the end of this year. The Imperial Valley water district made the appeal this week, urging state officials to uphold their responsibility to control dust and protect public health as the lake recedes.
The project, which involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Imperial Irrigation District, is one of several initial efforts underway to restore habitat and reduce windblown dust as the Salton Sea shrinks. The lake is about to begin receding rapidly.
It’s been about eight years since the Salton Sea was the epicenter of a swarm of earthquakes, but the abundance of temblors doesn’t necessarily indicate a larger one to come, a renowned seismologist says.
California’s Salton Sea and state-straddling Lake Tahoe would receive funding for environmental restoration under a bill set for Senate approval Thursday. More controversial water-related efforts remain stuck in Capitol Hill limbo, however.
When the Obama administration announced $30 million for Salton Sea restoration last month, local officials praised the federal government for finally starting to address the deterioration of California’s largest lake.
The Obama administration unveiled initiatives to help restore the Salton Sea and improve the region’s climate resilience, economy and public health as part of President Barack Obama’s visit to Lake Tahoe Wednesday.
The federal government is stepping up its commitment to the Salton Sea and exploring the possibility of buying geothermal energy from the Imperial Valley, in a series of moves that could help fund restoration projects at California’s largest lake and maybe pave the way for a multi-state agreement to use less Colorado River water.
An agreement by California to draw less water from the Colorado River to help boost water levels at Lake Mead could accelerate the shrinkage of the already precarious Salton Sea, endangering air quality and wildlife habitat.
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said the State Water Resources Control Board should step in and regulate the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley to coastal California as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement. Tim Bradley, speaking recently before the State Water Board, said while there is “no question” about the right of the water transfer, “the question is does the withdrawal of water seriously affect the health of California?”
Fearing an imminent public health threat, the director of the University of California, Irvine’s Salton Sea Initiative said the State Water Resources Control Board should step in and regulate the rate of water transferred from the Imperial Valley to coastal California as part of the Quantification Settlement Agreement.
Sen. Barbara Boxer called for urgent steps to fix the problems of the deteriorating Salton Sea, saying state and federal agencies need to speed up efforts to control dust and protect habitat as California’s largest lake declines.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called Thursday for local, state and federal agencies to hurry up and restore the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. … Boxer made her comments after a briefing from local, state and federal officials about efforts to curb environmental damage from the steadily shrinking sea. The briefing was closed to the press.
If you’ve noticed the Salton Sea seems to be stinking a bit more often lately, you’re right. … The Salton Sea has also been gradually declining, and some scientists expect the odors to become more frequent in the coming years as the lake’s level continues to drop.
The lack of small fish and the sudden declines of some bird species at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge could be signs that the lake’s overburdened ecosystem is starting to unravel and deteriorate. … The lake is also showing other symptoms of decay.
Assembly member Eduardo Garcia’s $3.1 billion bond proposal includes $25 million for air quality mitigation and the creation of wildlife habitat at the Salton Sea. The California Natural Resources Agency, thanks to a previous bill carried by Garcia, includes a list of shovel-ready projects on the lakebed.
Observers often wax apocalyptic when talking about the Salton Sea, and part of that narrative is the inevitable reminder that this blight isn’t natural, that the sea only exists because the Colorado River breached a man-made canal in 1905. But to millions of birds, the Salton Sea’s creation was a godsend.
Because the Imperial Irrigation District holds the single largest entitlement to water from the [Colorado] river, its participation would be vital in any agreement for California to share in water cutbacks to avert a looming shortage in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. But major hurdles remain for the district to support a potential deal, and the reasons begin with the shrinking Salton Sea.
A major water resources bill introduced Tuesday in the Senate would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to partner with local governments and other agencies – not just California officials – on projects to address the problems of the shrinking Salton Sea.
Earth Day, celebrated today across the globe, reminds us of the fragile state of our planet. From land contaminated with toxic chemicals to bad air spewed into the atmosphere, the most of us have been affected by pollution in some way. To bring all of this closer to home, we’re listing the 10 most critical environmental problems in Southern California.
For the first time in years the Salton Sea Recreation Area has a public boat launch. The public-private partnership that built the launch hope it brings more fishing, water skiing and recreational boating to California’s largest lake, which has been sinking and which scientists say is need of environmental rescue.
Last Sunday, a U.S. businessman teamed up with an environmental activist to organize an expedition from the Salton Sea to the Laguna Salada. Their goal was to drum up support for a plan to import water from Mexico to the Salton Sea.
Although there are some short- and medium-term fixes already in the works, the job of saving the Salton Sea is a long-term proposition – one that requires planning well into the next decades. A group of local leaders – known as the Long Range Plan Committee – has been assembled under the auspices of the California Natural Resources Agency to convene a series of meetings to listen to presentations that address long-term solutions for the sea.
The federal government plans to spend $3 million this year constructing a new wetland along the Alamo River in order to rehabilitate habitats and help clean up some of the polluted water flowing into the Salton Sea.
Planners working on the preservation of the Salton Sea envision a smaller version surviving indefinitely, with some of the costs for its maintenance recovered by economic development which may include geothermal, the harvest of algae, or something else, officials said during a conference at the UC Riverside.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s $122.6 billion budget plan out Thursday contained $80.5 million for the restoration of habitat at the shrinking Salton Sea, the creation of a longterm plan for the lake’s management, and is raising hopes for its restoration, officials said.
At least at the Salton Sea, the district’s [Imperial Irrigation District] hardball tactics seem to be working: There’s been more political progress this year than ever before. Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for a plan of action, and several long-stalled pilot projects are finally getting underway.
The Salton Sea is just a few years away from becoming a massive public health and environmental disaster. But if that bleak future doesn’t come to pass, the Coachella and Imperial valleys might look back at Nov. 5, 2015, as the day the tide started to turn.
The California Natural Resources Agency will move forward with the projects in the coming months and work with Colorado River officials to accelerate planning, permitting and construction, the governor’s office said.
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill to require the Salton Sea Authority, working with the Natural Resources Agency, to study projects to restore parts of the rapidly shrinking Salton Sea, a huge and troubled body of water considered a health menace.
Long gone are the luxury boats that drew stars inland from Hollywood to this accidental sea that first filled with Colorado River water after a massive 1905 canal breach. … The Southwest’s worsening water shortage will make saving the Salton Sea difficult, because any fix requires water from an over-stressed Colorado River.
Community activists, politicians and water officials from the Imperial and Coachella valleys went to the state water board in Sacramento six months ago with a plea: Avoid a “looming catastrophe” at the Salton Sea. … Two weeks ago, two top officials from the Imperial Valley returned to the water board to complain that virtually nothing has been done.
To save the Salton Sea, the Imperial Irrigation District might want to let it dry up faster. That’s one of the recommendations from California’s Little Hoover Commission, an independent agency that investigates state government operations and makes recommendations to the state Legislature.
Residents in the Coachella Valley are used to the seasonal rotten-egg stench from the Salton Sea, but not for nine days in a row. … In 2017, water to the sea will decrease greatly when an agreement to transfer water from farms to San Diego kicks into high gear.
Call it a first step. … The Imperial Irrigation District has released a 260-page document that provides short, medium and long-term plans to avert a health crises and spur the development of up to 1,700 megawatts of new geothermal energy at the Salton Sea.
The $3.15 billion would fund shovel-ready pilot projects and new geothermal energy development around the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. The money would come from several sources, including fees from companies that emit planet-warming greenhouse gases and the $7.5 billion water bond that voters approved in November.
The Imperial Irrigation District has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the manager of most of the state’s electricity grid, alleging that it is using its monopoly power to limit options for the district, which is a major player in the effort to mitigate the shrinking Salton Sea.
The shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline – threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air quality as dust from the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant winds.
(Read this excerpt from the May/June 2015 issue along with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western Water and get full access.)
Six days, 116 miles: That is Randy Brown’s goal, starting Tuesday, June 9. From June 9 to 14, the Rancho Cucamonga website developer plans a grueling trek around the Salton Sea, on the edge of the desert between Riverside and Imperial counties.
Concern about the consequences of a shrinking Salton Sea began almost as soon as the floodwaters of the mighty Colorado River stopped pouring into the Salton Sink in 1907 — 16 months after a breach in a canal inundated entire communities in the Coachella and Imperial valleys and created an accidental lake the size of Delaware.
As the historic drought drags on and Californians turn their attention to using less water, the Salton Sea continues to shrink — as do the chances of finding near-term solutions for revitalizing the ailing lake.
Two new documentaries about California’s struggles with dwindling water supplies will be shown back-to-back at the American Documentary Film Festival this weekend, one focusing on the state’s epic drought and the other examining the looming environmental problems of the shrinking Salton Sea.
California officials said Wednesday that the drought-stricken state set an unachievable bar to save the Salton Sea and outlined small projects aimed at staving off the demise of the state’s largest lake, disappointing farmers, environmentalists and others.
After listening to seven hours of doomsday predictions, state water officials agreed Wednesday to look at one of California’s largest but often ignored environmental problems: the deterioration of the Salton Sea.
On a whim, Blake Alexander traveled from his Los Angeles apartment to the Salton Sea last May. It was the first time after a four-year absence of visiting when he discovered what had happened to one of the world’s largest lakes.
A new bill from Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia would hasten efforts to clean up the New River, which flows from Mexico into the Salton Sea and has long been known as one of America’s most polluted waterways.
Imperial County and the Imperial Irrigation District announced a settlement in a long-running legal battle Tuesday, ending 12 years of litigation over a water transfer deal and its effects on the shrinking Salton Sea. The case stems from the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA, the largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history.
The Imperial Irrigation District is calling on all stakeholders in the 2003 water transfer deal to come together to finally find a solution to the piece of that puzzle that has remained elusive ever since: the promised restoration of the Salton Sea.
The Imperial Irrigation District is pressing for the state to take the lead in settling on a plan for the Salton Sea and paying for it as a deadline nears in less than three years for the lake’s decline to accelerate.
It’s hard to imagine that this quiet place once drew more visitors than Yosemite National Park. Back then, the Salton Sea was a boom town, rising out of the desert like a Las Vegas or a Palm Springs. The American Riviera, as it was known, was full of glamour and promise.
Imperial Valley water officials on Tuesday urged the state to help “avert an emerging environmental and public health crisis at the Salton Sea,” or otherwise consider restricting a massive water transfer deal that benefits San Diego.
A new campaign is underway to promote the new Salton Sea license plate, with the goal of registering at least 7,500 pre-sales by the end of next year. … Assemblyman Brian Nestande, a Palm Desert Republican, sponsored the legislation to create the plate. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in September.
The shrinking of the Salton Sea might pose a serious public health hazard, but it could also boost renewable energy development in the region, officials said Thursday at the Southern California Energy Summit.
Michael Cohen has studied the problems of the shrinking Salton Sea for years, and he says one of the biggest challenges is that it’s hard for many people to envision the serious and costly environmental disaster that could be unleashed by the lake’s decline.
During a long congressional career from 1963 to 1999, the late Congressman George E. Brown, Jr., called for solutions to the Salton Sea’s growing problems and once raised the idea of building a canal to connect the salty lake to the Sea of Cortez.
The restoration of the Salton Sea received a boost with the 8,000-page Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan released Tuesday by the federal Department of Interior. … In an interview, [U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell] said that the real fix for the Salton Sea involves water.
State and federal officials said Tuesday they are moving ahead with plans to build wetlands along portions of the dry shorelines of the Salton Sea, aiming to preserve habitat for fish and birds while also controlling dust.
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an excellent overview of climate change and how it is already affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are underway to plan and adapt to climate.
The Colorado River provides water to more than 35 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
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Southern California’s Salton Sea—approximately 232 feet (70 m) below sea level—is the by-product of a man-made accident.
In 1905, the Colorado River broke through a series of dikes, flooding a basin known as the Salton Sink in the Imperial Valley and forming the Salton Sea in what had been an ancient lake bed occasionally fed by the river.
Southern California’s Imperial Valley is home to California’s earliest agricultural drainage success story, one that converted a desert landscape to an agricultural one, but at the same time created far reaching consequences.
Water from the Colorado River transformed the sagebrush and desert sands of the Imperial, Coachella and Palo Verde valleys into lush, green agricultural fields. The growing season is year-round, the water plentiful and the local economies are based almost entirely on farming. As the waters of the Colorado River allowed the deserts to bloom, they allowed southern California cities like Los Angeles and San Diego to boom. Suburbs, jobs and people followed, and the population within the six counties served by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) grew from 2.8 million in 1930 to more than 17 million today.