March 21, 2023

The Salton Sea: An Accidental Lake Faces a New Water Crisis

The Salton Sea, located in Southern California, is one of the largest inland bodies of water in the United States. However, the Salton Sea is not a natural lake, but rather an accident of history, formed by an engineering mistake over a century ago. Today, the Salton Sea is facing a new water crisis that threatens the ecosystem, economy, and public health of the surrounding communities. In this article, we will explore the history and current state of the Salton Sea and the challenges it faces.

The Salton Sea

The History of the Salton Sea

In 1905, a levee along the Colorado River in California broke, and for the next two years, the river flowed unchecked into the Salton Sink, a shallow depression below sea level. The resulting flood created a lake that became known as the Salton Sea. For a time, the Salton Sea became a popular resort destination, attracting tourists from around the country.

However, the lake’s popularity was short-lived, as the water became increasingly polluted due to agricultural runoff and other factors. Over time, the Salton Sea became saltier than the ocean and experienced periodic fish die-offs, which further degraded the lake’s water quality.

The Salton Sea

The Current Crisis

Today, the Salton Sea is facing a new crisis, as the water level continues to drop due to a combination of drought, water transfers, and increased water demands. As the water recedes, it exposes vast areas of lakebed, which contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have accumulated over decades. The exposed lakebed also generates dust storms that pose a public health risk to the surrounding communities.

The crisis at the Salton Sea is further compounded by the fact that the lake serves as a critical habitat for migratory birds, including endangered species such as the Yuma clapper rail. The loss of habitat at the Salton Sea could have severe consequences for the birds’ survival.

Potential Solutions

There is no simple solution to the crisis at the Salton Sea, but there are several proposals that could help mitigate the problem. One potential solution is to import water from the Pacific Ocean and transfer it to the Salton Sea, which would increase the lake’s water level and reduce the amount of exposed lakebed. Another proposal is to build wetlands and other habitat restoration projects around the lake, which would provide habitat for the birds and other wildlife that rely on the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea


The Salton Sea is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted solution. If left unaddressed, the water crisis at the Salton Sea could have severe consequences for the environment, economy, and public health of the surrounding communities. However, with careful planning and investment, it is possible to restore the Salton Sea and ensure that it remains a vital part of Southern California’s ecosystem for generations to come.

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