Water Rights and the Salton Sea

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For a long time now, the Salton Sea has been close to the bottom of the priority list when it comes to water allocations and this has placed the Sea in a very tight spot. We have discussed extensively the consequences of allowing the Sea to dry and the temporary solutions outlined under the QSA. It has been recognized by the many stakeholders that the Salton Sea needs help but not much has been done. The Salton Sea needs a long-term solution that could give it hope for a sustainable future. Given the current conditions of the Salton Sea and the implications of allowing it to dry, perhaps an ambitious solution would be to incorporate the Salton Sea into future revisions of regional water laws. Continue reading “Water Rights and the Salton Sea”

The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians

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The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians has resided in the northern region of the Salton basin since 1876, when President Ulysses S. Grant officially established their tribe through an executive order. Members of the modern day Torres-Martinez Band have a large investment in the Salton Sea, literally. Over 10,000 acres of their Native American Reservation, nearly half of the total checker-boarded 24,800 acres, lie under the surface of the Sea, unreachable by the tribe until the water line recedes (Figure 1). However, the story of this underwater acreage is often reported incorrectly.

Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2006standards/rec/letters/T_Torres_Martinez_Tribal_Council_CMT.pdf
Figure 1. Map of the Torres-Martinez reservation and surrounding area. Click to enlarge. Obtained from http://www.epa.gov/air/particles/designations/2…

When the Salton Sea was formed in 1905, the Torres-Martinez did not own much, if any of the affected land. Rather in 1909, an amendment to the Mission Indian Relief Act granted the Torres-Martinez an additional 12,000 acres of land, 9,000 of which were beneath the newly formed Salton Sea. However, this was not meant to be a practical joke played by the federal government. Based on the evaporation rate of the Sea at the time, most people expected the land to be dry and available to the tribe within 25 years [1].

Then, agriculture in the Salton Sea region began to take off in the years following, and natural runoff and irrigation drainage from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys has kept most of the Torres-Martinez land submerged. Continue reading “The Torres-Martinez Band of Desert Cahuilla Indians”

Myths and Mistruths, Vol. 2

Welcome back for some more myth debunking! Last time we talked about the unlikely possibility of a ship full of pearls being sunk at the bottom of the Salton Sea. But I also mentioned several other prevalent myths or mistruths that other posts on this blog have now addressed:

“The Salton Sea is not safe to swim in.” ——————————————– BUSTED!

“It is a toxic dump created by agricultural pesticides.” ——————— BUSTED!

Geothermal energy is expensive and not competitive.” ——————- BUSTED!

“The Salton Sea is a marginal ecological and economical resource.” – BUSTED!

Perhaps one of the most tossed-around misunderstandings surrounding the Sea is this:

“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.”

While this argument is convenient for those who consider the Sea a lost cause, it is all bark and no bite. Continue reading “Myths and Mistruths, Vol. 2”

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”

Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium

Many of the predictions and concerns about the future of the Salton Sea are based on historical examples of other salt lakes around the world, and their impacts on local communities—some beneficial, and some disastrous. Three examples of highly saline terminal lakes, the Aral Sea, Owens Lake, and the Great Salt Lake, show some of the possible outcomes for the Salton Sea.

The drying of the Aral Sea has intense negative effects on communities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in terms of local economies, environments, and health. As the sea dried, dust storms and soil loss resulted in desertification of croplands and contamination of surface fresh water. [1] The shoreline retreated by miles, crippling the local economy, which was dependent on fishing and transportation. Due to extensive pesticide usage in the area, the dust from the Aral Sea contains DDT, PCBs, dioxins, and heavy metals, which have been found at high levels in pregnant and nursing women in Kazakhstan and Karakalpakstan. [2] Public health studies in the area have found widespread thyroid abnormalities, as well as lung malformations in children. [3]
Continue reading “Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium”

Saving the Sea

The world is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the Salton Sea and its impact on humans and to the environment, but what can be done to save the Salton Sea? The attempts to investigate and reduce the salinity in the Sea began in the 1960s [1]. However, the increased agricultural development and subsequent irrigation run-off into the Sea resulted in elevation of the water surface level and overlooking the need to control the salinity. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when the Federal and State agencies started looking into the Sea again. In 1992, the Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act authorized the United States Department of the Interior to conduct research to reduce and control the salinity of the Salton Sea [2]. Soon after, multiple agencies including Salton Sea Authority (SSA) started working with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other federal and state entities, which has led to numerous proposed alternative solutions to protect the Sea. Continue reading “Saving the Sea”

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”