The primary issue at the Salton Sea is the declining water level due to reduced water inflows and excessive evaporative losses. The main consequence of this is an increase in salinity, which in turn creates a sequence of other complications. The increasing nutrient concentration causes a dense growth of phytoplankton and plant life which deprives the Sea of oxygen and causes massive fish die offs. As the fish die, many bird species find it difficult to survive. In addition, as the Sea dries it exposes playa, which releases dust containing dangerous chemical compounds buried at the bottom of the Sea from decades of agricultural runoff.
It is evident that the consequences of allowing the Salton Sea to dry are quite disastrous and that they affect the aesthetic and ecological integrity of the Sea. It might seem that the key to preventing the Salton Sea from drying up lies in simply increasing the amount of water that goes into the Sea, but where to get the water from? That is a question that is far from simple and one that might not have a reasonable answer.
With the current water disputes over Colorado River water allocations and California’s ongoing drought, the Salton Sea seems to be left close to the bottom of the priority list. The Imperial Irrigation District has incentivized farmers to fallow land in an effort to reduce water usage, which in turn has reduced the amount of water entering the Sea.
The main problem is that at the moment, water is a very valuable product and it would be very difficult to convince the pertinent authorities that diversion of clean water into the Sea is worthwhile. The main priority is agriculture and public consumption, with little room for other uses. The current political views seem to be focused on other issues and have drifted away from the Salton Sea. During a hearing of the US Senate in 2013, political representatives of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and California met to discuss a study by the Bureau of Reclamation about the supply and demand of the Colorado River. During that meeting, they discussed extensively the importance of Colorado River water and the necessity to manage it properly. Of the 72 pages of notes from the meeting, the Salton Sea was only mentioned in four lines simply to direct concerns to the Salton Sea Authority.
Perhaps the solution is to find ways to use local water supplies, such as recycled water, to allocate to the Sea. But even then, the drought has forced cities to use every drop of water and even recycled water, although unappreciated it in the past, is now seen as a valueable resource.
In the end, a fight to get more water into the Sea might prove to be a task difficult to attain, especially in the current drought. Although putting clean water into the Sea could be the solution to all the problems, it is easier said than done.
Written by Miguel Garcia