30 Dec 2009

The Salton Sea is NOT natural

On page 104 of Water and the California Dream, we get this:
The 1905 event recreated a natural phenomenon that had occurred at least four times between the years 700 and 1580, when the Colorado River would temporarily change course and flood the sink. Each time, freshwater from the river gradually became salty after the river turned back toward the ocean and each lake evaporated. The twentieth-century version, named the Salton Sea, has remained full because of agricultural drainage from surrounding farmlands.
Note that the Salton sink was flooded four times in 800 years. After each time, it dried out. That's natural. Today's Salton "Sea" is NOT natural. It's replenished by irrigation runoff, of dubious quality. As water evaporates, it leaves behind higher concentrations of salts and other nasty stuff. Time to dry out the Salton Toilet, clean up the mess (yes, users pay) and restore real wetlands where they naturally occurred -- in Mexico, at the Colorado River Delta. Read more here.

Oh, and I don't care about Sacramento agreements on who pays and what's to be done; those are political BS that reflect horsetrading, neither reality nor what's right for Californians.

Bottom Line The Salton Toilet may be the single greatest special interest boondoggle in California. Stop the waste and dry it out.


  1. Nice (if blunt) post, David. For those unfamiliar with the story, the post reminds me of one of my favorite books, Salt Dreams by Bill deBuys.

  2. Good point, but it's not just the Colorado River Delta where the wetlands have been lost, but also further north in the tule swamps of the Central Valley. A more careful look at the ecosystem would be required to make sure that "offsetting" all of that admittedly artificial wetland in Mexico wouldn't have adverse effects on avian populations.

  3. I've been preaching this for almost 40 years. Wetlands alongside irrigation ditches are not natural either. Etc. Etc. Keep on pushing. It's a new generation's turn and maybe you will succeed.

  4. @Anon -- "Artificial" wetlands in MX? Don't understand. Agreed on Tule, but that water is being used in Kern County. IV water *would* goto the CRDelta...

  5. Ha! You really think that if they stopped irrigating the Imperial Valley, people would let that just flow on down through the Delta????

    Hey, I want whatever brand of reality you're smoking, because I don't see that happening in a million years. There are just TOO many entities that would want to get their hands on that water ... Pat Mulroy, Arizona, Mexico, Utah (wants to build a pipeline already), Colorado (growing well beyond it's carrying capacity), plus all the unsatisfied water rights owed to the Indian reservations throughout the southwest ....

  6. @Chris -- IV and the Delta are not hydrologically connected. If there were strong property rights (something I support), then other could not "get their hands" on the water, the same way that they cannot get their hands on your car keys. Of course, politicians will try to steal it if rights are weak. Duh.

  7. Since you began this with a quote from my book, I'd like to add to the context. The Colorado River delta (that's the Delta referred to in the posts, not the Sacto-San Joaquin delta) needs river water if it were to replace the bird habitat now provided by the Salton Sea. Meanwhile, we've not only lost migratory waterfowl habitat up in the Central Valley, but along the entire Southern California coast (much more and far more productive of wildlife than most people appreciate, because so little remains). Presently, birds have few choices on those long trips and the Salton Sea is, today, enormously important to the populations that remain. I'd love to see conservation in the Imp. Valley dedicated to water in the Colorado River that would feed that Delta. But until then, the Salton Sea has tremendous environmental value.

  8. @David -- Agreed. It's a package deal :)

  9. "Agreed on Tule, but that water is being used in Kern County. IV water *would* goto the CRDelta..."

    And the water that goes to Imperial Valley is NOT being used??

    I also object to the "irrigation runoff, of dubious quality" comment. There has been a tremendous amount of effort to clean up the water that goes into the Salton Sea.

    First, the New River, which transports Mexicali's raw sewage into the U.S. and dumps it into the Salton Sea, has had several wetlands built that make a huge difference in its water quality.

    Second, farmers have gone to extensive efforts to clean their tailwater through the Imperial Valley TMDL program, which has resulted in marked improvements in water quality in the drain system that leads into the Sea.


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