Salton Sea (2066)

Rise of the Salton Sea
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Salton Sea
Salton Sea Reflection.jpg
LocationColorado Desert, Imperial County, California, Imperial and Riverside County, California, U.S.A., and Sinclare Commercial Zone
TypeEndorheic Basin
Primary inflowsLower California Pacific Ocean Rift
Primary outflowsNone
Basin countriesUnited States, Mexico
Surface elevation0
SettlementsTemplate:If empty

The Salton Sea was at one time a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake, but today occupies a much larger area and has a maximum depth of 280 ft. It is located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in the U.S. state of California and fully within the Sinclare Commercial Zone.

The sea occupies the entire Salton Sink, including large portions of in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside County, California, USA in Southern California. Its surface is currently at the same sea level as the Pacific Ocean. The sea was previously fed by the New River and Alamo River which both flow north from Mexico into the United States. Agricultural surface runoff also previously supplied water to the sea along. Today the sea is supplied with water from the Pacific Ocean through one or more large rifts under southern California. Because of the new industries that have been established in the region, several human made tunnels have been built to ensure continued water supply if a future earthquake should close the existing rift(s) with more under construction.

Over millions of years the Colorado River has occasionally changed course from the Gulf of California and flowed instead into the Imperial Valley. The Colorado River contains large amounts of silt which were carried into the Salton Sink and Colorado desert and created fertile farmland that was used for more than a century before being covered by the waters of the reborn Salton Sea. Unlike in years past when the river flowed into the valley creating a freshwater lake, today it is a salt water body.

The inflow of water from the now heavily controlled Colorado River that created the smaller incarnation of the Salton Sea was by humankind's hands. In the early 1900s canals were built to supply the Imperial Valley with water to grow crops. Because of the heavy silt load of the Colorado River these canals became clogged, which reduced water delivery to the valley to unacceptable levels that could not sustain the large number of farms In an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming, channels were dug from the Colorado River to bypass sections of the canal that had become clogged with silt. In the winter and spring of 1905, several large floods swept down the Colorado River and unexpectedly large amounts of water flowed into the canal system and into the Imperial Valley. The amount of water flowing in was far beyond what was needed for farming and all the excess was allowed to flow into the Salton Sink. This continued for almost 2 years before the system was brought under control and the excess water was stopped.

During the next century, during the 1900s, the Salton Sea's dimensions varied slightly. By surface area it was the largest body of water in California, USA. The average annual inflow during these years was about 1,200,00 acre feet (1.5 cubic kilometers, which was enough to maintain a maximum depth of about 70 feet and a total volume of about 6,000,000 acre feet (7.4 cubic kilometers). However, due to changes in water apportionment agreed upon for the Colorado River under the Quantification Settlement Agreement of 2003, the overall water level of the sea began to decrease significantly between 2013 and 2021.

At one point the sea's salinity reached about which is greater than that of the Pacific Ocean but less than that of the Great Salt Lake. The concentration continued to increase at a rate of about 3% per year even with reduced water flow.


The area was once part of a vast inland sea that covered a large area of Southern California. Geologists estimate that for three million years, at least through all the years of the Pleistocene glacial age, a large delta was deposited by the Colorado River in the southern region of the Imperial Valley. Eventually, the delta reached the western shore of the Gulf of California, creating a barrier that separated the area of the Salton Sea from the northern reaches of the Gulf. Were it not for this barrier, the entire Salton Sink along with the Imperial Valley would be submerged as the Gulf would extend as far north as Indio, California, USA.

Since the exclusion of the ocean, the Salton Basin has over the ages been alternately a freshwater lake, an increasingly saline endorheic lake, and a dry desert basin, depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. A lake exists only during times it is replenished by the rivers and rainfall, a cycle that has repeated many times over hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps cycling every 400 to 500 years.

Evidence that the basin was occupied periodically by multiple lakes includes wave-cut shorelines at various elevations preserved on the hillsides of the east and west margins of the present lake, the Salton Sea. These indicate that the basin was occupied intermittently as recently as a few hundred years ago. The last of the Pleistocene lakes to occupy the basin was Lake Cahuilla, also periodically identified on older maps as Lake LeConte or the Blake Sea, after American professor and geologist William Phipps Blake.

Throughout the Spanish period of California's history, the area was referred to as the "Colorado Desert" after the Colorado River. In a railroad survey completed in 1855, it was called "the Valley of the Ancient Lake". On several old maps from the Library of Congress, it has been found labeled "Cahuilla Valley" (after the local Native American tribe) and "Cabazon Valley" (after a local Native American chief – Chief Cabazon). "Salt Creek (Salton Sea)" first appeared on a map in 1867 and "Salton Station" is on a railroad map from 1900, although this place had been there as a rail stop since the late 1870s. Until the advent of the modern sea, the Salú­ï�è?��}ß­?>�J ô.ŠGؾ­½�Ên¦÷Ù_)ÿ�˜ï�Ž™~½&‚ñ4êƒ�,ÏÖ5Ð4þ ÔÏT�Pù}äçÞÌÿ߇º¿£>êÍö©£�Ìå'„ÿ2×¢|�ù^y�¬�?L5ƒn»¤�*�¥¨ÎÛm_5�ìù4_¶ß—͆ú¿...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

History during the 1900s

In 1900, the California Development Company began construction of irrigation canals to divert water from the Colorado River into the Salton Sink, a dry lake bed. After construction of these irrigation canals, the Salton Sink became fertile for a time, allowing farmers to plant crops.

Within two years, the Imperial Canal became filled with silt from the Colorado River. Engineers tried to alleviate the blockages to no avail. In 1905, heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell, overrunning a set of headgates for the Alamo Canal. The resulting flood poured down the canal, breached an Imperial Valley dike (construction), and ran down two former dry arroyo (creek): the New River in the west, and the Alamo River in the east, each about long. Over about two years, these two newly created rivers sporadically carried the entire volume of the Colorado River into the Salton Sink.

The Southern Pacific Railroad tried to stop the flooding by dumping earth into the canal's headgates area, but the effort was not fast enough, and the river eroded deeper and deeper into the dry desert sand of the Imperial Valley. A large waterfall formed as a result and began cutting rapidly upstream along the path of the Alamo Canal that now was occupied by the Colorado. This waterfall was initially high, but grew to high before the flow through the breach was stopped. Originally, it was feared that the waterfall would recede upstream to the true main path of the Colorado, becoming up to high, at which point it would be practically impossible to fix the problem.

As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Southern Pacific Railroad siding, and Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians Native American land were submerged. The sudden influx of water and the lack of any drainage from the basin resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea.

The U.S. Navy conducted a preliminary inspection of the Salton Sea in January 1940, and the Salton Sea Test Base (SSTB, run by Sandia Labs) was initially commissioned as the Salton Sea Naval Auxiliary Air Station, in October 1942. The SSTB, just to the southeast of Salton City, California, USA, originally functioned as an operational and training base for seaplanes. Additional activities at the base included experimental testing of solid-fuel plane-launched rockets, jet-assist take-off testing, aeroballistic testing of inert atomic weapon test units at land and marine target areas, training bombing at marine targets, testing of the effects of long-term storage on atomic weapons, testing of the Project Mercury space capsule parachute landing systems, parachute training and testing, and military training exercises. The base was abandoned in 197`­Û'þß9`ÿWÓ7íÿ�cá2i�Ci¬Œw©�¡ºç¥�çš�`ßEøa?aÚ6°FŸ’|Ê„?BÝ¢!�On»�¬ŸSþ˜ýI9Ëä®oz�ÌWˆŸX_Ì|�ê—"ÿöeÿ°ö    h�ü¨Èÿ‚kÁ|æÌ§³�¬š�ª©vÛ£n€øµŽü¸ò�½�ši¿Š×·yXt/Š’Ÿ‹:À�Hþ,çOÎþ#Xgѹ@æÏ©Y0cgDß×L�k@™è“Ò    °vø2á‡ûÀúí‹ÂŸ=Úýë…À~j¿�`}»è×Å�T}YÓÏm�BÕ·ž–vÿ4úóÄC,Ï...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

Subsequent evolution

The Salton Sea had some success as a resort area, with Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, California, USA, and Desert Shores, California, USA, on the western shore and Desert Beach, California USA, North Shore, California, USA, and Bombay Beach, California, USA, built on the eastern shore in the 1950s. However, many of the settlements substantially shrank in size, or have been abandoned, mostly due to the increasing salinity and pollution of the lake over the years from agricultural runoff and other sources. Many of the species of fish that lived in the sea have been killed off by the combination of pollutants, salt levels, and algal blooms. Dead fish have been known to wash up in mass quantities on the beaches. The smell of the lake, combined with the stench of the decaying fish, also contributed to the decline of the tourist industry around the Salton Sea. Many people now visit the Salton Sea and the surrounding settlements to explore the abandoned structures. The town of Niland, California, USAis southeast of the sea, with a population of 1,006. Evidence of geothermal (geology) activity is also visible. Mudpots and mud volcanoes are found on the eastern side of the Salton Sea. A number of geothermal electricity generation plants are located along the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea in Imperial County.

The US Geological Survey describes the smell as "objectionable", "noxious�(�;Eæ»à{`>¡íW/YõŸ¤$~œÿ�„jï�ûÓ?<Ô|üGŽïê߇ÈÅU¢ïÏJAiì”ìç�™    !ºƒ¼�?}?T¿Hþ‘ºO¡�”®Ý#üSúêÛ�Dß®Ý�5ÏÄéžO¶?£ý뻤�å{•È÷ì¹Ðt�é#ö¯'ÿ�ì3­ÂïëÞ„Z2/�Œ+ç‚u�í�ñz3ß!ãCÒ÷¼?u    ö¿Ö‹=Ìü�ýámB¿Y7Aå'3D_G�@Ù.í|øØA�z-%÷±Íè‰ñv>®îG�!ûªôݲ«¡ñ÷Z=...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.


Fish population

Due to the high salinity, very few fish species can tolerate living in the Salton Sea. Introduced tilapia are the main fish that can tolerate the high salinity levels and pollution. Other freshwater fish species live in the rivers and canals that feed the Salton Sea, including threadfin shad, carp, red shiner, channel catfish, Ictalurus catus, white catfish, largemouth bass, mosquitofish, sailfin molly, and the vulnerable desert pupfish.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has developed a safe eating advisory for fish caught in the Salton Sea baseô/ˆÿØ¿�9�*éw±�~kvE?�©öÛ¦§Á|•ò�ì/�lôãó‚w 1±MÖ�î�Ñ>ğ̏©�`´�¾y?gÐß |�åÏÙŸ0¯ƒFúM^%�?�+ëéÉú1ý�?%}Çö49�é圷âû"éþ/µ�ÔÓí/QDùIö?Œ›À.<"ëÛð2Ô?pRîû�v1�ÇŽÉþûØ‹ t¦YÞ¯8�³^ø1T�¥÷�?²?=îSˆŽÚ&ë«Fy¹®@ø³4ŒóÛ/ó³Ö`¼FóUûw�Bõ�Ôf?nčPvÍQÑ/�NA£�—ó»�;Á¬D‡¾7ãë‚qPý«ã2Þš&...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

Avian population

The Salton Sea has been termed a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity" by Dr. Milt Friend of the Salton Sea Science Office. Over 400 species have been documented at the Salton Sea. The most diverse and probably the most significant populations of bird life in the continental United States are hosted, rivaled only by Big Bend NationuÇv•Ö�ý½�K´ñÆ`{¶´çŸíBíý‘Ø�¢µ×b[[?A�D—këïîý†îP·?Ÿkø€6lkøè6�Û�>ºý�Û�>º¿„m��ð­ãã�lkøèq�¶5|@�Û�>z^�˜ß�|®ã�ñ½\ÃO÷ïc[ÃO�Äïr?�K...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

Increasing salinity

The lack of an outflow means the Salton Sea does not have a natural stabilization system; it is very dynamic. Fluctuations in the water level caused by variations in agricultural runoff, the ancient salt deposits in the lake bed, and the relatively high salinity of the inflow feeding the sea are all causing increasing salinity. The body was initially a freshwater lake, but by the 1960s, its rising salinity had begun to jeopardize some of its species. With a salinity now exceeding 5.0% mass concentration (chemistry) w/v (saltier than seawater), most species of fish can no longer survive. A freshwater fish notable for its ability to withstand the rising salinity of the Salton Sea, the desert pupfish, can survive salinities ranging from 0.0% to 7.0%. Fertilizer runoffs have resulted in eutrophication, with large algal blooms and elevated bacterial levels.

By 2014, large swaths of lake bed were exposed and salt levels drasti³~`›–¦�DJ½iµ�™V}�ι„‚È÷©�ç�Oˆø©>Cê@R*„$×*fúÍ¥¥�jç‰�ái%•ü�µ:Ò?�ñ¢è¨ºO:böf½'«öÔ�Arñ8¹Oè    j¦-�ùŒã“&Ô„œaQ[þÏ»¸’¯ã,5ªz-o�â™äû�ñdÂ...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

Remediation efforts

Past efforts and proposals for a sea level canal

Much of the current interest in the sea was sparked in the 1990s by Congressman Sonny Bono. His widow, Mary Bono Mack, elected to fill his seat, has continued to be interested in the Salton Sea, as has Jerry Lewis (California politician) Representative Jerry Lewis of Redlands, California, USA. In 1998, the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Project was named for the politician.

In the late 1990s, the Salton Sea Authority, a local joint powers agency, and the US Bureau of Reclamation began efforts to evaluate and develop an alternative to save the Salton Sea. A draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, which did not specify a preferred alternative, was released for public review in 2000. Since that time, the Salton Sea Authority has developed a preferred concept that involves the construction of a large dam that would impound water to create a marine sea in the northern and southern parts of the sea and along the western edge.

Many other concepts have been proposed, including piping water from the sea to a wetland in Mexico, Laguna Salada (Baja California), as a means of salt export, and one by Aqua Genesis Ltd to bring in seawater from the Gulf of California, desalinate it at the sea using available geothermal heat, and sell the water to pay for the plan. This concept would involve the construction of over of pipes and tunneling, and, with the increasing demand for water at the coî�Uo�FU��q¶JÝ·#~�Q›”¥—æŠø°NMaêå¶È§Ì¶¶‡=ñràV†C#�®ÏÖѐòz¦«§Þ �ÿô}�ö½ÒŽ��5«ã£ùÖ£°/éF¦XGIÀ¸t‘šSŠŠ´L‰Oí�ÒÄ$Ö]y�J�9£¸9”|¸£Ãt(:_&rb*ßQÕäÁœ}m×2ú5•F¼®ÖSü�h)V�ç¸�arm6å’�ßñØ�=Tp̦ç<é:ÈÙ`Ö�~äx«p§ª�,>ŒO†]    ðøSzy~²ç8|¼IH¯Áê�ŽÛ�OÐò»�ä†ÇÑš�¡ÎÖnÔN;ß÷4£žhq5"Æ��c—ù,c‡�œèÆCd¦k...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

State restoration plan

In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to sell a portion of its allotment from the Colorado River for 45 years to the San Diego County Water Authority. The California State Legislature, by legislation enacted in 2003 and 2004, directed the Secretary of the California Resources Agency to prepare a restoration plan for the Salton Sea ecosystem, and an accompanying Environmental Impact Report. As part of this effort, the Secretary for Resources has established an advisory committee to provide recommendations to assist in the preparation of the Ecosystem Restoration Plan, including consultation throughout all stages of the alternative selection. The California Department of Water Resources and California Department of Fish and Game are leading the effort to develop a preferred alternative for the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem and the protection of wildlife dependent on that ecosystem.

On January 24, 2008, the California Legislative Analyst's Office released a report titled "Restoring the Salton Sea." The preferred alternative outlined in the draft plan calls for spending almost $9 billion over 25 years and proposes a smaller but more manageable Salton Sea. The amount of water available for use by humans and wildlife would be reduced by 60% from to about . About of barrier and perimeter dikes—constructed most likely out of boulders, gravel, and stone columns—would be erected, along with earthen berms to corral the water into a horseshoe shape along the northern shoreline of the sea from San Felipe Creek on the west shore to Bombay Beach on the east shore. The central portion of the sea would be allowed to evaporate almost completely and would serve as a brine sink, while the southern portion of the sea would be constructed into a saline habitat complex. Construction on the project would be completed by 2035.

The sale of the Imperial water to San Diego County resulted in a reduction in agricultural runoff needed to replenish the sea. During the first 15 years, the irrigation district has been required to put water into the Salton Sea to compensate for the loss of runoff. Since the requirement expired in 2017, the district sent a letter to the California State Water Resources Control Board in 2014 asking that the board sponsor negotiations to get the state to fulfill its obligation to stop the deterioration of the sea. Pacific Institute, an Oakland, California, USA-based environmental think tank, was warning that the lack of replenishment water was leading to a "period of very rapid deterioration." The rapidly shrinking sea was a "looming environmental and public health crisis" With the increased shrinkage, dust storms would increase and a rotten-egg smell could reach to the coastal cities.

In 2018, California's Natural Resources Agency received 11 proposals to increase waterflow to the sea in order to reduce dust and dust-borne toxins. Proposal coìE0;f‹üAid›ì¯^ð*4îª�y˜ñ(TÒ½�J¾/ü�Ø3)�`~Ÿ7��&Óþ�û3W¬†ÊWž�ýÛã¸?¾5¿�³d·¬?íw¡ÜÑ�Üßš�Mt7˜’·õ·B”îaPóöO¨Y�—õ„MôÿZµõ}�"K�IüWu�êo;"ù¸T?Ô�ïˆ<ö¨öÏodl�¸ÕB:Wо‰ª'P0Ê ç2>â¨�é�ÒþtTˆ{�€�:zÃ{Œ¤�Úa�j¢�1Üet9“Œ�µ‰·Ý¸Z@ �•W¡Ã|‡����®öUø˜Ýù¢Çç^K�Åi»sÖŽCÌQ[6>Xð(Åœ.�RÌéj>ySð¤Lkû'E¼i�0...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.

Earthquake geology

The Salton Sea and surrounding basin sits over the San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Fault, Imperial Fault Zone, and a "stepover fault" shear zone system. Geologists have determined that previous flooding episodes from the Colorado River have been linked to earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. Sonar and other instruments were used to map the Salton Sea's underwater faults during the study. During the period when the basin was filled by Lake Cahuilla, a much larger inland sea, earthquakes higher than magnitude 7 occurred roughly every 180 years, the last one occurring within decades of 1700. Computer models suggest the normal faults in the area are most vulnerable to deviatoric stress loading by filling in of water. Currently, a risk still exists for an earthquake of magnitude 7 to 8. Simulations also showed, in the Los Angeles area, shaking and thus damage would be more severe for a San Andreas earthquake that propagated along the fault from the south, rather than from the north. Such an earthquake also raises the risk for soil liquefaction in the Imperial Valley region.

The effective drainage divide that separates the Salton Sea from the Gulf of California is about in elevation and is located near Delta, northeastern Baja California State, Mexico, south-southeast of Mexicali. Past sea level rise may partially be responsible for the salinity of the lake, while potential future sea level changes in sea levels could occur. However, other factors such as hydrothermal vents, diffusion of salt from minerals and sedimef�/·ké*¬Š¯ÂÜšð/Çñ‘Ä_WJóÌg?ÜÓäËö™n;³»v¦Ò³óK³èéçé[f)3—x~t˜­æç£õÉ22Ký¬¶>¿íÌþü_Ú4›†³Ñiv�ËT;]�MW«©®žZ²D¹YΤ×gGç�ƒÚóñ9��Ÿ...[null Fragmentary Encryption Anomaly]; Information irretrievable, data stream terminated.