Powell’s Premonition

The panel discussion we hosted at UC Riverside highlighted the growing effort to coordinate local, state, and federal entities in an attempt to save the Salton Sea.  However, it also highlighted some of the glaring reasons that efforts to manage the Sea have consistently come up short. The Salton Sea has long suffered from dual problems: conflicting interests amongst stakeholders and lack of a distinct, legally responsible party. These compounding problems are not isolated to the Salton Sea. In fact they are the two most common problems in poorly managed water resources today.      Continue reading “Powell’s Premonition”

Recreation at the Salton Sea

Visit the Sea for bird watching, boating, camping, hiking or hunting!

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For those less familiar with the Salton Sea, it is not normally thought of as a modern day recreational destination. However, the Salton Sea is a popular site for campers, boaters, anglers, hunters and more. The southern shore is home to the Sonny Bono wildlife refuge, and many state managed duck and geese blinds for waterfowl hunters. Along the north shore of the Sea, 14 miles of shoreline have been designated for recreation, known as the Salton Sea State Recreation Area (SRA). This area provides access to kayaking, boating, camping, bird watching, photography and hiking [1]. Continue reading “Recreation at the Salton Sea”

Skip the Steak & Save the Sea

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Here at Salton Sea Sense we have tried to show that despite all the problems facing the Sea, there is hope. Hope that the Sea can thrive for generations to come, providing habitat for wildlife, continued environmental stability, and potentially increased economic opportunities. But, between the growing California population, the demands of agriculture, the historic drought and the needs of the Sea our water resources are being stretched to the breaking point. In order to meet these demands Californian’s have worked hard to find places to cut water use. This idea has spurred many ideas and catchy slogans, such as don’t wash your car and “go dirty for the drought” or let your lawn go “California Golden.” But by far the largest use of water in California is not our lawns or even our almonds; it is our meat and dairy production. Therefore, the best solution to our water scarcity problem is not found in our backyards, but at the end of our forks.

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Table 1. Obtained from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/0…

Meat and dairy production in California consumes 47% of our total water use, where as household water use only accounts for 4% and yes that includes those lawns[i]. The main perpetrator of this water use is one of the feed crops used for cattle: alfalfa, which also happens to be the primary crop grown in the Imperial Valley. Alfalfa uses over 5000 acre feet/year of water, nearly twice as much as the next crop, rice (table 2).* The last United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report from the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management emphasized Continue reading “Skip the Steak & Save the Sea”

A New Type of Farming

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As we discussed in the last agricultural post, one of the largest problems facing the Salton Sea has come masked as the solution for the California water crisis. Water conservation incentives for farmers are one of the principle pillars in the California drought crisis management, with constant conservation messages and monetary incentives to reduce water use. When it comes to agriculture, many of these measures are focused on providing subsidies for farms to adopt water saving irrigation technology. These include pivot sprinklers, drip irrigation, and soil moisture content measurement devices [1]. The goal of all these tools is to transition farmers away from the ancient and highly inefficient irrigation technique known has flood irrigation. This simple technique involves literally flooding the land with water; this method, while simple, is highly inefficient and results in a large amount of run-off. While this is wasteful in terms of irrigation, it provides the life-breath for the Salton Sea. Without the constant run-off, the Salton Sea will only continue to shrivel, becoming saltier and more nutrient dense each day.

Level basin flood irrigation on wheat. Yuma, Az. 2002 Photo by Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Source:http://photogallery.nrcs.usda.gov/Index.asp
Level basin flood irrigation on wheat. Yuma, Az. 2002 Photo by Jeff Vanuga, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Source:http://photogallery.nrcs.usda.gov/Index.asp

However, does this have to spell the end for the Sea? Or can this situation be capitalized on to bring a new kind of agriculture and revenue to the Imperial Valley? Continue reading “A New Type of Farming”

Fish Bones and Game of Thrones

The Salton Sea: once a prized weekend destination, now a dilapidated afterthought in the middle of the desert. The Sea lost its appeal to many people after it became highly saline and oxygen-deprived from agricultural run-off. These conditions lead to massive fish kills that created shores composed of fish bones and seasonal pungent odors. Today, the fate of the Sea is uncertain. On its current trajectory, with the impending reduction of water due to the Quantification Settlement Agreement and with no plan to prevent its demise, the Salton Sea will become an ecological disaster and public health burden. Here at Salton Sea Sense we all agree that something needs to be done about the Salton Sea. However, there is a lot of debate about who should be stepping up to take responsibility to make the decision and to fund restoration projects. The problem is there are so many different parties involved in the Salton Sea that it is impossible to determine who is most affected by the Sea and its fish bone beaches.

You could say that keeping track of all the stakeholders in the Salton Sea is almost as confusing as trying to keep track of all the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In honor of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, we give you: Game of Bones (cue theme song). Continue reading “Fish Bones and Game of Thrones”

Agriculture in the Imperial Valley: A Tale of Two Seas

Agriculture in the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea has a long and sordid past. The Salton Sea is located in the Imperial Valley, a region of California where the dominant economy is the production of crops. In order to create this farming oasis in the middle of the desert, 917,540 million gallons of water a year must be shunted to the Imperial Valley from the Colorado River. This is the beginning of the story of how an agriculture revolution has created and changed the largest body of water in California.

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Row irrigation in Imperial Valley, Calif. 2009. Photo by Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of the Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto, Howard Greenberg Gallery and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York.

The Salton Sea was originally formed in 1905 when massive rain and snowmelt overwhelmed the dams designed to contain the Colorado River and poured into the empty Salton sink. The dams were repaired quickly, but the Sea had already filled. By the 1930s water levels had noticeably dropped and most believed that the sea would naturally dry up. However, around the same time, cotton farming and the massive water shuttling began in the Imperial Valley [1], refilling the Sea with agricultural run-off. Continue reading “Agriculture in the Imperial Valley: A Tale of Two Seas”