Topic: Salton Sea

Overview

Salton Sea

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.

Aquafornia news Audubon California

Blog: How changes at the Salton Sea might be fueling the smallest migrants

… The role of inland saline lakes like the Salton Sea in providing biofilm to migrating birds is a new and intriguing line of inquiry and emphasizes the already dire need to conserve the limited number of stopover habitats suitable for shorebirds. Saline lakes across the interior western U.S. are at risk of ecological collapse as fresh water is diverted away and salinity rises to unhealthy levels. This puts millions of birds already devastated by habitat loss at further risk and exposes human residents to toxic sediments as shorelines recede and form large dust clouds. Maintaining the ecological function of these lakes is essential to both public health and the recovery of migratory bird populations in the western United States.

Aquafornia news The Desert Sun

Opinion: The Salton Sea 10-year management plan is a waste of time and money

… Perhaps it would be better to develop less water-intensive developments. Recreation is certainly what were known for, but at what cost? Each golf course uses approximately 1,000-acre feet of water yearly (326,000,000 gallons of water).  Before the existence of the Salton Sea, the Colorado River created ancient Lake Cahuilla many times over thousands of years, making it the largest fresh water inland lake in California. Now the Salton Sea is on the brink of a health and environmental disaster that will impact all of Southern California. We are currently all affected by the some of the worst air quality in the nation.
—Written by Kerry Berman, interpretive guide, I-naturalist, author of “Enchanted Valley Palm Springs and Beyond”

Aquafornia news KPBS Public Media - San Diego

Study says water transfer deal is raising dust and draining the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a terminal saltwater lake. It’s a flooded basin with no natural outlet, similar to the Great Salt Lake or the Aral Sea. And the Salton Sea is shrinking. One of the reasons for that is the Imperial Water Transfer deal that has brought hundreds of thousands of acre feet of water to San Diego over the last two decades. The deal, signed 21 years ago, meant the Imperial Valley began transferring excess water from the valley’s farm fields to San Diego’s water taps. That meant a lot less farm runoff that had been sustaining the Salton Sea. San Diego State University economics professor Ryan Abman said the biggest effects of that conservation plan were seen about eight years into the agreement. “So really, after 2011, we see a noticeable increase in the rate of decline of the water level and that leads to an increase in the increased rate of playa exposure. So more of this dust-emitting surface is being exposed every single year,” Abman said.

Aquafornia news CalMatters

Opinion: How California climate bond could boost lithium, aid Salton Sea

… The Salton Sea region is facing economic pressure to become a substantial domestic supplier of lithium, placing greater challenges on lower-income communities that already face significant disparities – yet contribute so much to the prosperity and quality-of-life of others. … This year, state leaders have a chance to place a climate bond on the November ballot, which would give voters an opportunity to approve important environmental protections and clean energy projects. This bond can benefit all areas of the state, while also providing $400 million to the Salton Sea region and $15 million to establish a conservancy. 
-Written by Silvia Paz, executive director of Alianza Coachella Valley, and former chair of California’s Lithium Valley Commission.​

Publication Colorado River Basin Map

Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River Basin
Updated 2024

Cover of Layperson's Guide to the Colorado River Basin

Learn the history and challenges facing the West’s most dramatic and developed river. 

The Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River Basin introduces the 1,450-mile river that sustains 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland spanning seven states and parts of northern Mexico.

The 28-page primer explains how the river’s water is shared and managed as the Southwest transitions to a hotter and drier climate.

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2024
Field Trip - March 13-15

Tour participants gathered for a group photo in front of Hoover DamThis tour explored the lower Colorado River firsthand 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 some 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hilton Garden Inn Las Vegas Strip South
7830 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89123
Tour Nick Gray

Eastern Sierra Tour 2023
Field Trip - September 12-15

This special Foundation water tour journeyed along the Eastern Sierra from the Truckee River to Mono Lake, through the Owens Valley and into the Mojave Desert to explore a major source of water for Southern California, this year’s snowpack and challenges for towns, farms and the environment.

Grand Sierra Resort
2500 E 2nd St
Reno, NV 89595
Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2023
Field Trip - March 8-10

This tour explored the lower Colorado River firsthand 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 some 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2022
Field Trip - March 16-18

The lower Colorado River has virtually every drop 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, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.

Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139

A Colorado River Veteran Takes on the Top Water & Science Post at Interior Department
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Tanya Trujillo brings two decades of experience on Colorado River issues as she takes on the challenges of a river basin stressed by climate change

Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science For more than 20 years, Tanya Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and other crops.

Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of California, exposing her to the different perspectives and challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s Lower Basin.

Western Water California Water Map By Gary Pitzer

Long Troubled Salton Sea May Finally Be Getting What it Most Needs: Action — And Money
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: California's largest lake could see millions in potential funding to supercharge improvements to address long-delayed habitat and dust suppression needs

A sunset along the shoreline of California's Salton Sea.State work to improve wildlife habitat and tamp down dust at California’s ailing Salton Sea is finally moving forward. Now the sea may be on the verge of getting the vital ingredient needed to supercharge those restoration efforts – money.

The shrinking desert lake has long been a trouble spot beset by rising salinity and unhealthy, lung-irritating dust blowing from its increasingly exposed bed. It shadows discussions of how to address the Colorado River’s two-decade-long drought because of its connection to the system. The lake is a festering health hazard to nearby residents, many of them impoverished, who struggle with elevated asthma risk as dust rises from the sea’s receding shoreline. 

Long Criticized For Inaction At Salton Sea, California Says It’s All-In On Effort To Preserve State’s Largest Lake
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Dust suppression, habitat are key elements in long-term plan to aid sea, whose ills have been a sore point in Colorado River management

The Salton Sea is a major nesting, wintering and stopover site for about 400 bird species. Out of sight and out of mind to most people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking dust.

The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.  

Lower Colorado River Tour 2021
A Virtual Journey - May 20

This event explored 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 was the focus of this tour. 

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

With Drought Plan in Place, Colorado River Stakeholders Face Even Tougher Talks Ahead On The River’s Future
WESTERN WATER IN-DEPTH: Talks are about to begin on a potentially sweeping agreement that could reimagine how the Colorado River is managed

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.

Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.

Western Water California Water Map Gary Pitzer

California’s New Natural Resources Secretary Takes on Challenge of Implementing Gov. Newsom’s Ambitious Water Agenda
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Wade Crowfoot addresses Delta tunnel shift, Salton Sea plan and managing water amid a legacy of conflict

Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Secretary.One of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first actions after taking office was to appoint Wade Crowfoot as Natural Resources Agency secretary. Then, within weeks, the governor laid out an ambitious water agenda that Crowfoot, 45, is now charged with executing.

That agenda includes the governor’s desire for a “fresh approach” on water, scaling back the conveyance plan in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and calling for more water recycling, expanded floodplains in the Central Valley and more groundwater recharge.

Western Water Colorado River Basin Map Gary Pitzer

‘Mission-Oriented’ Colorado River Veteran Takes the Helm as the US Commissioner of IBWC
WESTERN WATER Q&A: Jayne Harkins’ duties include collaboration with Mexico on Colorado River supply, water quality issues

Jayne Harkins, the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission.For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the commission’s 129-year history.

Lower Colorado River Tour 2020
Field Trip - March 11-13

This tour explored 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. 

Silverton Hotel
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Western Water Douglas E. Beeman

What Would You Do About Water If You Were California’s Next Governor?
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Survey at Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit elicits a long and wide-ranging potential to-do list

There’s going to be a new governor in California next year – and a host of challenges both old and new involving the state’s most vital natural resource, water.

So what should be the next governor’s water priorities?

That was one of the questions put to more than 150 participants during a wrap-up session at the end of the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento.

Tour

Lower Colorado River Tour 2018

Lower Colorado River Tour participants at Hoover Dam.

We explored 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 was the focus of this tour.

Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Western Water California Water Bundle Gary Pitzer

Statewide Water Bond Measures Could Have Californians Doing a Double-Take in 2018
WESTERN WATER NOTEBOOK: Two bond measures, worth $13B, would aid flood preparation, subsidence, Salton Sea and other water needs

San Joaquin Valley bridge rippled by subsidence  California voters may experience a sense of déjà vu this year when they are asked twice in the same year to consider water bonds — one in June, the other headed to the November ballot.

Both tackle a variety of water issues, from helping disadvantaged communities get clean drinking water to making flood management improvements. But they avoid more controversial proposals, such as new surface storage, and they propose to do some very different things to appeal to different constituencies.

Announcement

Tour the Lower Colorado River in April and See the ‘Lifeblood of the Southwest’ Up Close
Join us as we visit Hoover Dam and other infrastructure, wildlife refuges, farming regions and the Salton Sea

Tickets are now on sale for the Water Education Foundation’s April 11-13 tour of the Lower Colorado River. 

Don’t miss this opportunity to visit key sites along one of the nation’s most famous rivers, including a private tour of Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project’s Mark Wilmer pumping plant and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The tour also visits the Salton Sea, Slab City, the All-American Canal and farming regions in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

Western Water Magazine

The Colorado River: Living with Risk, Avoiding Curtailment
Fall 2017

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. 

Tour Nick Gray

Lower Colorado River Tour 2019

This three-day, two-night tour explored 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. 

Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Aquapedia background Lake Tahoe Lake Mead Mono Lake Diamond Valley Lake

Lakes

Definition

Lake TahoeA lake is an inland standing body of water.

Lake, Pond or Wetland?

Scientifically and legislatively, lakes are indistinguishable from ponds, but lakes generally are considered to be longer and deeper lentic, or still, waters. In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists attempted to distinguish the two more formally, stating that ponds were shallow enough to allow sunlight to penetrate to the bottom, but this exists today as an unofficial point.

Western Water Gary Pitzer

Salton Sea Advocate Calls For Regulating Rate of Water Transfer to Avert Public Health Crisis

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.

Western Water Excerpt

Countdown at the Salton Sea
May/June 2015

The clock is ticking for the 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.)

Publication

Water & the Shaping of California
Published 2000 - Paperback

The story of water is the story of California. And no book tells that story better than Water & the Shaping of California.

Publication

Water & the Shaping of California
Published 2000 - hardbound

The story of California is the story of water. And no book tells that story better than Water & the Shaping of California.

Video

A Climate of Change: Water Adaptation Strategies

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.

Maps & Posters

California Water Map, Spanish

Spanish language version of our California Water Map

Versión en español de nuestro mapa de agua de California

Maps & Posters California Water Bundle

California Water Map
Updated December 2016

A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.

Our 24×36-inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.

Aquapedia background Colorado River Basin Map

Salton Sea

As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its elevation of 237 feet below sea level.

The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years, creating California’s largest inland body of water. The Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130 miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe

Aquapedia background California Water Map Layperson's Guide to California Water

Pacific Flyway

The Pacific Flyway is one of four major North American migration routes for birds, especially waterfowl, and extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, to Mexico and South America. Each year, birds follow ancestral patterns as they travel the flyway on their annual north-south migration. Along the way, they need stopover sites such as wetlands with suitable habitat and food supplies. In California, 90 percent of historic wetlands have been lost.

Imperial Valley

Imperial ValleyThe Imperial Valley in the southeastern corner of California receives the Colorado River Basin’s single-largest share of water to support much of the nation’s fruit and vegetable supply and hay for the
cattle and dairy industries.

Western Water Excerpt Sue McClurgRita Schmidt SudmanGary Pitzer

The California Plan and the Salton Sea
Nov/Dec 2001

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.