A Case for Coachella Conservation

As we have discussed before, the majority of Colorado River water distributed to California is allocated for agriculture. The Coachella Valley next to the Salton Sea represents one of the most productive agricultural regions in California and it is there where the majority of the water goes, with about 280,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water delivered annually. Dealing with a combination of water allocations, the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) is in a tight spot trying to meet state-mandated water use regulations while providing water to its increasing population. Continue reading “A Case for Coachella Conservation”

Natural or Not?

If man flooded it, can it still be considered natural?

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“Why don’t we just let the Salton Sea dry up and return to its natural state?”

“The California Development Company flooded it. Why don’t they pay to fix it?”

Have you heard any of these questions, or even thought them yourself? You are not alone. Many people who begin to learn about the Salton Sea arrive at these inquisitive conclusions shortly after learning about the “Great Diversion” of 1905. But let us revisit together some historical facts and observations, and ask ourselves, “Is the Salton Sea natural or not?” Continue reading “Natural or Not?”

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”

Salton Sea Weed: Water and Agriculture in the Imperial Irrigation District

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Man watering Marijuana plants. Source: Huffington Post
Man watering Marijuana plants. Source: Huffington Post

Several months ago, the Torres Martinez tribe announced that they will be growing medical marijuana on tribal lands in the near future.[1] The income from this growing operation could provide the Torres Martinez tribe, and the surrounding area, with a much needed economic boost.[2] However, large-scale growing of the water-intensive marijuana plant may pose an environmental risk in an area already gripped by drought.

Continue reading “Salton Sea Weed: Water and Agriculture in the Imperial Irrigation District”

The Science of Salt

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs walked the Earth and the Salton Trough was at the bottom of the ocean. The Salton Trough was part of the Gulf of California until four million years ago when sediment from the Colorado River built up and closed the gap.1 Today, there are 150 miles between the Salton Sea and the Gulf of California, but evidence of their former connection can be found in the soil.

The land around the Salton Sea is composed of minerals of marine origin; many of these minerals are salts. A salt is a compound made up of positively (cation) and negatively (anion) charged ions. Sodium chloride, known as table salt, is the primary salt in the ocean and it dissolves readily in water to form a sodium cation and a chlorine anion. Other chemical components of seawater include magnesium, calcium, and potassium cations and sulfate anions. The Salton Sea has many of the ions of seawater in addition to phosphate and nitrate nutrients from fertilizers that are flushed into the Sea.2 Together, the total dissolved salt content of a body of water is called salinity. Continue reading “The Science of Salt”

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”

Water We Fighting About?

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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.

rqenbghowvxb7m4lltieWith the current water disputes over Colorado River water Continue reading “Water We Fighting About?”