Development of Salton Sea mobile homes

Stephanie Dashiell, California Desert Associate

The excessive heat warnings are not the only reason the Salton Sea is appearing in the news this summer. The Salton Sea is the 525-square-mile saline lake in California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys created when the Colorado River flooded in 1905 –In 2003, the State of California and four large Southern California public water districts agreed to transfer 300, 000 acre-feet (or, the amount of water that would supply about 300, 000 families per year) of the Colorado River westward from the agricultural fields of the Imperial Valley to the golf courses and swimming pools of San Diego. Last month, a California judge upheld this farm to city water transfer as the latest development in a ten year legal battle. This means that the agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley, which is the lake’s only water inflow (yet another example of the severe state of upset that our environment is in), will cease, and the Salton Sea could recede at the rate of six feet per year, causing a number of serious problems for humans and wildlife alike.

Impacts of a Dying Sea

Although mitigation components had been part of the 2003 agreement and plans for further mitigation are being made, the water transfer is currently happening and by 2017 will have already begun to impact the Sea and surrounding environment. Lacking its traditional water source now re-routed to San Diego, as the Sea recedes, it will expose fine-grained sand playas to the area’s typical high speed winds, and could likely cause a billion-dollar air quality problem for Imperial and Riverside counties. And air pollution is not the only environmental catastrophe that awaits us if the Salton Sea dries up – loss of habitat for fish, migratory birds and other wildlife presents even more reason for concern.

Exposed Playa at the Salton Sea – the Sea was three feet higher in 2001. It is estimated to drop at a rate of six feet per year once the water transfer goes into effect. California Desert Associate Stephanie Dashiell visits a geothermal facility – there is an estimated 2,200 MW of geothermal potential in Imperial County.

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