Environmental News

The Salton Sea Crisis: California’s Largest Lake is Rapidly Shrinking

The Salton Sea Crisis: California’s Largest Lake is Rapidly Shrinking
Camilo Atkinson

The Salton Sea is California’s largest inland saline lake in the Sonoran desert. Today, it is drying up generating an ecological crisis, called the Salton Sea Crisis. Let’s take a closer look.

The Lake’s History

Salton Sea’s creation was nothing but a big accident. In 1905, irrigation canals on the banks of the Colorado River broke, flooding the Salton basin and submerging the town of Salton. By 1907, the canals were fixed, yet, the lake had been already formed.

Initially, the new lake was marketed as a “miracle in the desert.” In the 50s and 60s, it attracted over half a million tourists per year. Even Hollywood stars, like the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono would visit regularly.

Today, the Salton lake has been rapidly shrinking and birds and fish have been dying, in what is now called the Salton Sea Crisis. The dry lake bed is releasing toxic dust into the desert winds affecting nearby communities. Asthma rates have alarmingly increased among the communities near by the lake.

The Salton Sea Crisis is About to Get Worse

Right after the lake was created, its water level was sustained by the Colorado River and the irrigation runoff from agricultural activity in the Imperial County. The water that has been pouring into the lake contains fertilizer, pesticides, and large quantities of salt.

Over the years, the lake’s salinity rose so much that it was barely able to sustain any life. Today, the Salton Sea’s water is 30 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

By the end of this year, river water will be diverted from farms to cities since that is where the growing demand is, causing the lake to dry up faster that ever before and sending more lung-damaging dust to the working class families around the lake. This will cause an ecological apocalypse and thrusts the Salton Sea Crisis to the top of the environmental agenda.

In 2014, local students went to the state capitol to urge politicians to take urgent actions. So far, little to nothing has been done by the local and state authorities. 

All solutions to the Salton Sea crisis have a common issue–the price. In 2007, the state of California issued a plan to save the lake that would cost $9.6 billion. Unfortunately, the plan failed to gain any traction. And with the latest administration in government, the outlook is not promising.

Everyone is still waiting for the perfect solution to the Salton Sea Crisis, unfortunately, there isn’t a “perfect solution.” Yet, something’s got to be done, since researchers have estimated the cost of doing nothing in the tens of billions of dollars.

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