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Salton Sea Sense

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

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Water Rights

Salton Sea and the New Normal

Last month, Salton Sea Sense had the opportunity to host and hear from Michael Cohen, Senior Research Associate at the Pacific Institute. The Pacific Institute aims to provide science-based leadership and outreach to inform public water policy, and Cohen has been working specifically on the Salton Sea since 1998. He recently published an excellent Institute blog post on the current “fortunes and prospects” at the Sea, which is available here.

In his talk at UC Riverside, Cohen outlined some of the challenges that continue to face the Salton Sea. One of those challenges is the perception of Sea as an “artificial” ecosystem, which we have previously blogged about. Cohen pointed out that the whole of the State of California’s water is part of a managed system that includes man-made aqueducts, reservoirs and pumps. The Salton Sea is an essential part of this system as one of the last remaining aquatic habitat options in the southwestern United States for birds on the Pacific Flyway. Continue reading “Salton Sea and the New Normal”

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”

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”

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”

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?”

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 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”

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