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”

A Treasure Buried Underground

Imperial County, where the Salton Sea is located, tends to be associated with agriculture, and there are many reasons why this is so. According to the Imperial County’s agricultural report the gross value of farm products reached 2.15 billion dollars in 2013 [1]. That is more money than the GDP of at least 30 countries. In more concrete terms, around 80% of the winter crops consumed in the United States are grown in Imperial County. Since economic geography is continuously changing and in light of California’s ongoing drought and expected changes from the diversion of water to San Diego County, one wonders how big of a role can agriculture continue to play in the region. It is hard to predict what will happen. While the heat and water on the surface are quintessential for the economic powerhouse that is agriculture in this region, the heat and water under its ground evoke another major opportunity that is increasingly becoming more and more important: geothermal power. Continue reading “A Treasure Buried Underground”

People and Prosperity

When we talk about the Salton Sea, the discussion often revolves around science, environment, and economics. How toxic is the water, exactly? Which types of birds rely on the sea’s existence? What is the price tag on implementing restoration projects? While these are all great conversations, we often forget the major and arguably most important factor: the role of people.

From afar, students, researchers, and policymakers around California and the world gawk at the state of the Salton Sea, while thousands of people reside near the Sea and experience its stench and beauty every day. A local photographer seeks to share the stories of these people through Salton Sea Speaks.

At the Salton Sea, a real dilemma of environmental justice has emerged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as [1]:

“… the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

Continue reading “People and Prosperity”

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”

A Thirsty Sea

Located in an extremely arid region, the Salton Sea is subject to high temperatures and low precipitation. Extreme evaporation alone causes the water level at the Sea to decrease 5.4 ft. every year [1]. Historically, the majority of the water inflows at the Sea have been from diversions of the Colorado River, inputs from Mexico, and agricultural discharges from Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys. Without these vital inflows, the depth of the Sea will quickly decrease causing release of contaminants currently present at the bottom of the lake and increase in salinity to even higher levels. The current salinity at the Sea is about 54 g/L which is much higher than the salinity in the ocean which is on average 35 g/L. This high level of salinity will affect the habitability for fish at the lake where only tilapia species have been able to survive despite massive die offs.

Continue reading “A Thirsty Sea”

Myths and Mistruths, Vol. 1

Given the complexity of the Salton Sea, it is easy to understand how an assortment of myths and mistruths can pop up from time to time. Some myths are playful and inconsequential, while others have pervasive ramifications if believed and spread. We here at Salton Sea Sense hope to shed light on some of these ideas, giving validity to the ones who deserve it, and debunk those that do not.

Here is a list of some of the most common myths surrounding the Sea.[1]

  • “A Spanish ship filled with pearls from the 16th century is buried at the bottom of the Salton Sea.”
  • “The Salton Sink would be dry right now were it not for the accident in 1905. Therefore, we should just let the Sea dry up.”
  • “It is not safe to swim in, nor is it safe to eat the fish.”

Continue reading “Myths and Mistruths, Vol. 1”