The Salton Sea: Death And Politics In The Great American Water Wars

The Salton Sea; Death And Politics In The Great American Water Wars.

This is a well written account of where the Salton Sea now stands. It is a story of nitrogen overload, salinity overload, species in crisis, politics apathetic, economy in turmoil and the always relevant discussion on human waste and corporations unwilling to take responsibility for their mistakes and losses.

The Salton Sea did not ask to be born. It was spawned from greed and the diversion of the Colorado River over one hundred years ago of water it so desperately needs today as it no longer flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Salton Sea stands as a monument to human hubris and our failed responsibility to the water and the species and ecosystems struggling to survve there.

Political solutions are as usual scant in size and slow to come as we now once again argue over the best course of action to save it , or to even save it at all as we as usual take no responsibility for its current and future fate.


"A heinous rotten-egg smell settled into the metropolis, a stench more familiar to residents lining the Salton Sea, some 150 miles to the east. It was this 376-square-mile body of water, created by accident in the middle of the desert over a century ago, that belched up the fetid cloud. And such episodes will continue to plague Southern California as the collapse of the Salton Sea ecosystem accelerates over the coming years.

Considered to be among the world’s most vital avian habitats and — until recently — one of its most productive fisheries, the Salton Sea is in a state of wild flux, the scene of fish and bird die-offs of unfathomable proportions. It was the resulting sea-bottom biomass that a storm churned earlier this week, releasing gases that drifted into Los Angeles.

This is just the latest episode in the Salton Sea’s long, painful history of sickness and health and booms and busts — a stinky side effect of a great American experiment to civilize the western deserts. By economic measurements, this experiment has been an astounding success. By environmental measurements, it’s shaping up to be pure disaster.

These days, in the 115-degree heat of summer the Sea stinks so bad that the reek sticks in your throat like Elmer’s Glue. Chemical-laced dust kicked up from its rapidly receding shoreline contributes to an asthma rate for local children three times higher than the state average. It’s been variously called a natural wonder, a national embarrassment, paradise, and the ecological equivalent of the Chernobyl disaster.

The saga of the Sea is one of tangled government agencies, farmers whose crops cradle its shores, local Native American tribes, legislators, environmentalists, and private water utilities. It’s about politics, ecological frontiers, brutal ironies, and historical wounds still smarting. But more than anything else, it’s about water: those who get it, those who don’t, and those who outright loot it. The Salton Sea is the latest battle in the American water wars, and without drastic action, in a matter of years it will fall — and bring Southern California down with it."


"The rapid retreat of the Salton Sea’s waterline is exposing a lakebed where a century’s worth of agricultural chemicals are pooled. When completely dried, this grit becomes airborne in winds as slow as 5 miles per hour. With the evaporating sea projected to expose 134 square miles of such muck by 2035, it’s not difficult to forecast an unprecedented human health crisis in the Imperial Valley.

But in 2003, under pressure from the federal government to reform Southern California water rights, the Imperial Irrigation District, which divvies up water to the Imperial Valley’s fertile farm lands, reached a deal that effectively guaranteed the Salton Sea’s collapse. The Quantification Settlement Agreement transfers an enormous amount of Colorado River water to San Diego and its equally thirsty northern neighbor, Los Angeles. The deal allots virtually no water for the Salton Sea. The Irrigation District did, however, agree to deliver mitigation water to the Sea until 2017, by which time the state is required to have a large-scale restoration effort ready to go.

All the Sea needs to survive, of course, is more water. But in a state of 37 million people, of agricultural output totaling twice that of any other state, of countless square miles of lawn (including over 1,000 golf courses), the ostensibly dysfunctional sea takes last priority. Now it isn’t even allowed scraps. San Diego recently bankrolled the lining of canals around the Sea to ensure that the Colorado River, instead of seeping into the Sea, makes its way toward the coast."

This video attributes the rotten egg odor to the dying ecosystems. Some however say it is from the San Andreas getting ready to move and still others hypothesize natural gas drilling as the reason... ok, are they really drilling for natural gas near the San Andreas fault?!

This also reminds me of another body of water that is declining due to human waste and exploitation- The Dead Sea. Will we stop in time in our fervor to fulfill our selfish desires to see what we are doing?