“The Salton Sea was man-made…by accident.”
By Linn Smith
The Salton Sea controversy was generated most recently by the signing of the Colorado Drought Contingency Agreement, which was mandated to be signed by all states bordering the Colorado River by the end of March 2019. These states were mandated to water cuts by the agreement in an attempt to prevent further dropping of water levels.
The Hoover Dam
Why the water cuts? If Lake Mead continues dropping and reaches below 1,050 ft, the Hoover Dam will stop generating power to millions of people. If it continues dropping below 895 ft. it will become a “dead pool”, where water can no longer be piped out to states along the river border. It is today only 40% full at approximately 1,082 ft, thus the federal intervention demand on cutbacks of water usage from all Colorado River border states.
The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest holder of water rights in California, was in line to sign the agreement, but only if the Colorado Contingency Agreement granted water to revive the troubled Salton Sea before signing. California signed anyway and the Salton Sea wasn’t included in the agreement.
History of the Salton Sea
The Salton Sea has a lengthy history and has not been sustainable since its beginning. Sustainability is an avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain ecological balance. The Salton Sea doesn’t meet this definition.
The Salton Sea was man-made…by accident. From 1905 to 1907, water poured out of a poorly built system of irrigation ditches meant to divert water from the Colorado River to the dry, arid farm land in Southern California. The water flooded the Salton basin, developing a 400 sq mile lake named the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. Nicknamed the Salton Riviera in the 1950’s, the lake developed into a tourist destination, with resorts popping up around its edge. The Dept.of Fish and Game stocked it with many types of fish and boaters, yacht clubs and celebrities flocked to its shores.
The Decline of the Salton Sea
The decline of the Salton Sea began around 1976 with tropical storms, rising salinity due to no fresh water supply to counter evaporation, toxic agricultural runoff and a receding shoreline. Housing prices plummeted! Today, the main attraction is a wildlife refuge on the lake’s shore.
With the recent Colorado Drought Contingency agreement, the Imperial Valley District tried to demand its water rights for the declining sea, stating it has become a health hazard with toxic blowing sand due to agricultural run off, dying fish and abandoned buildings on a shoreline that no longer exists. California signed the Contingency Agreement without the support of the Imperial Valley District, its largest holder of water rights. According to the Washington Post, “The Metropolitan Water District, which serves Los Angeles, essentially wrote Imperial out of the drought plan to prevent delays in implementing it by taking on Imperial’s pledged water contributions to Lake Mead.”
In Support of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
Was the Salton Sea ever sustainable? We can either support our communities who depend on the Colorado River for electricity and agriculture, or revitalize a dying sea that can’t survive and has little purpose today. With climate change everyone has to give for the greater good and for the survival of future generations.