The Salton Sea Water Incremental Funding in Time (SSWIFT) proposal is another reason to be optimistic about restoration at the Sea.  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”
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. 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.
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.  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.  At the Salton Sea, desalination is being explored as a part of habitat restoration efforts. Continue reading “Desalting the Sea: Part 1”
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.  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.  Public health studies in the area have found widespread thyroid abnormalities, as well as lung malformations in children. 
Continue reading “Similar Seas: Salt Grass, Shrimp, and Selenium”
Can you swim in 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 .
Second question: Should you swim in the Salton 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 . 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.