In February 2020, Andrea Jones scrambled up Obsidian Butte, a
lava dome on the southeastern corner of Salton Sea. Amid the
expanse of dry, exposed lakebed, the result of decades of water
diversions and ongoing drought, she also saw a glimmer of
green—unexpected reeds and cattails taking hold around the edge
of the sea, signs of budding wetlands. … Agricultural
drains—dozens of ditches and pipes directing water off nearby
farmland—once flowed directly into the sea. But as the sea
shrinks, their outflow now trickles and meanders across exposed
playa, allowing wetlands to form. They are a happy
surprise amid an otherwise desperate scene at the Salton
Sea, a 343-square-mile inland saltwater lake and the largest
remaining body of water in California.
California’s little-known New River has been called one of North
America’s most polluted. A closer look reveals the New River is
full of ironic twists: its pollution has long defied cleanup, yet
even in its degraded condition, the river is important to the
border economies of Mexicali and the Imperial Valley and a
lifeline that helps sustain the fragile Salton Sea ecosystem.
Now, after decades of inertia on its pollution problems, the New
River has emerged as an important test of binational cooperation
on border water issues. These issues were profiled in the 2004
PBS documentary Two Sides of a River.