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Salton Sea Sense

A resource for California's largest lake and potential environmental catastrophe

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Water Quality

Desalting the Sea: Part 2

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As mentioned in Desalting the Sea: Part 1, the Salton Sea is undergoing increasing salinization. Desalination, or “desal” for short, is a commonly proposed option to restore habitat and ecosystem health, and its role in the Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative has been discussed. Part 1 explained the details of thermal distillation, and this accompanying post will introduce membrane filtration, another common desal technique. Continue reading “Desalting the Sea: Part 2”

Let’s be SSWIFT about it

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The Salton Sea Water Incremental Funding in Time (SSWIFT) proposal is another reason to be optimistic about restoration at the Sea. [1] SSWIFT, which is backed by County of Riverside District Supervisor John Benoit and the Salton Sea Authority (SSA), could be a simple solution for mitigating fugitive dust while other projects that focus on wildlife preservation and energy development are established around the Sea. Continue reading “Let’s be SSWIFT about it”

Mexico and the Salton Sea

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So far, this blog has discussed extensively the ecological and socio-economic consequences of allowing the Salton Sea to dry up. The decline in the air quality around the Salton Sea due to exposed playa is a problem that will extend to many cities in the southwestern U.S., the economic burden of allowing the Sea to dry will be shared among all Californians, and water allocations that impact the Sea are decided by intra-state agreements. Without a doubt, the Salton Sea is a complex system that must involve not only the local communities, but also different states and even nations. An important player that has largely been left out of discussions thus far is our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Continue reading “Mexico and the Salton Sea”

Harsh Habitat: The Endangered Desert Pupfish

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Several previous posts have discussed the ecological importance of the Salton Sea, particularly its effect on migratory birds. However, the Salton Sea is also home to a much less obvious endangered species, the tiny desert pupfish. Desert pupfish, which are less than 3” long fully grown, are an unusual species due to their incredible tolerance for extreme water conditions. The desert pupfish can survive at salinities of up to 70 g/L—more than double the salt concentration of seawater.[1] This has historically allowed the desert pupfish to live in saline lakes, rivers, and marshes throughout the deserts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Mexico.

DesertPupfish_JohnRinne_FPWC_4.jpg
Desert Pupfish, Cyprinodon macularius, John Rinne

Continue reading “Harsh Habitat: The Endangered Desert Pupfish”

AB 965 California and Mexico Border: Water Resources Improvement

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia speaking to the Assembly Select Committee on Renewable Energy Development and Restoration of the Salton Sea
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia speaking to the Assembly Select Committee on Renewable Energy Development and Restoration of the Salton Sea. Courtesy of ASMDC.org

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Assembly Bill 965, written by Eduardo Garcia from the 56th District, amends previous legislation to increase cooperation with Mexico and allocates money to be used for watershed restoration projects along the US-Mexico border. [1] Specifically, AB 965 adds the Secretary of State and Consumer Services to the California-Mexico Border Relations Council as a voting member, and it allows the US EPA Region 9 to appoint a non-voting representative to the council as well. Similarly, the bill also requires the council to invite representatives from Mexico to any meetings that are held by the council. As far as resource allocation, the bill makes funds available from the California Border Environmental and Public Health Protection Fund to the California-Mexico Border Relations Council, to be used to:

“… identify and resolve environmental and public health problems that directly threaten the health or environmental quality of California residents or sensitive natural resources of the California border region, including projects related to domestic and industrial wastewater, vehicle and industrial air emissions, hazardous waste transport and disposal, human and ecological risk, and disposal of municipal solid waste.” [2]

Continue reading “AB 965 California and Mexico Border: Water Resources Improvement”

Desalting the Sea: Part 1

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Much like the Salton Sea, many inland bodies of water suffer from rising salinity, which can harm biota and prevent beneficial water use. This salinization occurs when soil, which contains salts and minerals, is mobilized from clearing natural vegetation or when fresh water is diverted for irrigation. [1] As irrigation water and drinking water sources become increasingly salty, different solutions become necessary to recover freshwater. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leader in desalination, which is the industrial process of removing salt from water, with 50% of the nation’s drinking water recovered from seawater. [2] At the Salton Sea, desalination is being explored as a part of habitat restoration efforts. Continue reading “Desalting the Sea: Part 1”

Salton Sea Food: Tasty Tilapia

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The Salton Sea in the 1930's Source: greetingsfromsaltonsea.com
The Salton Sea in the 1930’s Source: http://www.greetingsfromsaltonsea.com/

The Salton Sea has been many things to a lot of people. It has been a piece of post-apocalyptic landscape, an artist’s muse, and a lesson on water management and habitat restoration. At one point, it was a hot spot for vacations and was even one of the hottest fisheries in California. Imagine that, the Salton Sea as it is now once had enough fish in it that you could catch them without bait. Now, not so much, but that does not mean you cannot fish at the Salton Sea. There are even groups such as the Sea and Desert Interpretive Association that advocate fishing at the Salton Sea as a wholesome means of entertainment.

So the pressing question on everyone’s mind is “Can I eat fish from the Salton Sea?” More precisely, “Will eating fish from the Salton Sea kill me?”

Continue reading “Salton Sea Food: Tasty Tilapia”

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”

Sink or Swim (or Float): Water Quality and Salinity of the Salton Sea

You are going to the Salton Sea this weekend. It’s the desert; it’s going to be really hot, so you want to know if you will be able to cool off in the water. Considering the massive fish die-offs and the occasional nasty odor for which the Salton Sea is notorious, you might be concerned about the safety of swimming in the water. You probably want to know the answer to two questions:

First question: Can you swim in the Salton Sea?

Answer: Of course you can! It’s full of water, it reaches a depth of 50 ft., and there are plenty of crowd-free beaches. Not only can you swim in the sea, but you can also float really well. There are approximately 55 grams of salt per liter of water (g L-1). This salinity is higher than the ocean, which has ~33 g L-1; thus the water is more dense and, with no waves, the relaxation potential is greater [1].

Second question: Should you swim in the Salton Sea?

Continue reading “Sink or Swim (or Float): Water Quality and Salinity of the Salton Sea”

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