Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Infobox lake
lake_name = Salton
image_lake = Salton Sea from air IMG 1081 061114 071248.jpg
caption_lake =
image_bathymetry =
caption_bathymetry =
location = Southern California, United States
coords = coord|33.3|N|115.8|W|type:waterbody_region:US-CA|display=inline,title
type = saline, endorheic
inflow = New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers
outflow =
catchment =
basin_countries = United States, Mexico
length =
width =
area = 376 sq mi (974 km²)
depth =
max-depth = convert|51|ft|abbr=on
volume = convert|9.3|km3|abbr=on
residence_time =
shore =
elevation = convert|-220|ft|abbr=on
islands =
cities = Desert Beach, Desert Shores, Salton Sea Beach, Salton City, Bombay Beach

The Salton Sea is an inland saline lake, occupying the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink, part of the larger Colorado Desert in Southern California, USA, north of the Imperial Valley. The salinity of the lake is about 44,000 mg/L, greater than ocean water but less than the Great Salt Lake; the salinity is increasing by about 1% annually. [ [] ] The lake covers a surface area of approximately 376 square miles (974 km²), the largest in California. While it varies in dimensions and area due to changes in agricultural runoff and rain, it averages 15 by 35 miles (24 by 56 km), with a maximum depth of 51 feet (15.5 m), giving a total volume of about 7.5 million acre-feet (9.3 km³). Sea inflow averages 1.36 million acre-feet per year (53.2 m³/s).

The Salton Sea falls within both Riverside County and Imperial County. Like Death Valley, it is located below sea level, with the current surface of the Salton Sea at about 220 ft (65 m) below sea level. The deepest area of the sea is 5 feet (1.5m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers, as well as a number of minor agricultural drainage systems and creeks.


Once part of a vast inland sea which covered a large area of Southern California, the endorheic Salton Sink was the site of a major salt mining operation. Throughout the Spanish period of California's history the area was referred to as the "Colorado Desert" after the Rio Colorado (Colorado River). In the 1853/55 railroad survey, it was called "The Valley of the Ancient Lake". On several old maps from the Library of Congress, it has been found labeled "Cahuilla Valley" (after the local Indian tribe) and "Cabazon Valley" (after a local Indian chief - Chief Cabazon). "Salt Creek" first appeared on a map in 1867 and "Salton Station" is on a railroad map from 1900, although this place had been there as a rail stop since the late 1870s. The name "Salton" appears to be due to salt mining in the area, at least as early as 1815. A yearly expedition to the area mined salt for Los Angeles residents. With the extension of a rail line through the basin, large scale salt mining started in 1884. After that, the general area is referred to as the 'Salton Sink' or the 'Salton Basin', "sink" or "basin" referring to the area's bowl-shaped topography.

Creation of the current Salton Sea

The creation of the Salton Sea of today started in 1905, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell and breach an Imperial Valley dike. It took nearly two years to control the Colorado River’s flow into the formerly dry Salton Sink and stop the flooding. As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Southern Pacific Railroad siding and Torres-Martinez Indian land were submerged. The sudden influx of water and the lack of any drainage from the basin resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea.

Efforts to irrigate the fertile Imperial Valley region had culminated in the creation of the Imperial Canal, leading from intakes on the Colorado River to the below-sea-level Imperial Valley. As this waterway became blocked by silt from the river, the California Development Company, which was responsible for the irrigation system, built a diversion channel on Mexican territory, out of reach of the then-new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The new route crossed an unstable river delta that was regularly reshaped during floods of the Colorado, and the CDC did not have the funds necessary to construct a proper headgate system at the intake from the Colorado river to prevent accidents if the river flooded.

In 1905, massive flooding of some 150,000 cubic feet per second (over 4,200 cubic meters/second) on the Colorado overran the diversion channel and diverted the river into the Salton Sink. Cutback erosion of the soft soil in the channel deepened it and created a steadily-growing waterfall that worked its way back towards the location of the river intake, with the falls at one point reaching 100 feet (30m) in height. Scientists worried that if the cutback reached the river itself, the river would be permanently diverted into the Salton Sink, and the cutback might even continue up through Yuma, Arizona. The Southern Pacific Railroad, which had substantial business interests in the region, spent some three million dollars (under intense government pressure) over two years to stop the river's flow into the Salton Sink. In 1907 these efforts succeeded, and the river resumed its previous course towards the Gulf of California. The Salton Sea flooding event was a significant impetus behind the construction of dams on the Colorado River, notably Hoover Dam.

Today, agricultural runoff is largely responsible for sustaining the Salton Sea via the New River and Alamo River. The Salton Sea is replenished by more than one million acre-feet (1.2 km³) of runoff water from irrigated farmland.

The Salton Sink has held significant bodies of water in the past. For example, there is scientific evidence that 300 years ago a short-lived body of water, called Lake Cahuilla, existed in the valley. The area was also briefly flooded in 1891, but all of those bodies of water disappeared through evaporation. Like the creation of today's Salton Sea, the larger historic waterbodies were also fed by the Colorado River.

Bird use at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea has been termed a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity" (Dr. Milt Friend, Salton Sea Science Office). Over 400 species have been documented at the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea supports 30% of the remaining population of the American White Pelican. [] The Salton Sea is also a major resting stop on the Pacific Flyway. The sea's rising salinity threatens to eliminate the habitat value for fish-eating birds, such as pelicans. Without restoration actions, the sea will also eventually fail to support the microorganisms necessary to support the many shorebirds that depend on the Salton Sea. On 18 November 2006 a Ross's Gull, a high Arctic bird, was sighted and photographed there. []

Saving the Salton Sea

Past efforts and Proposals for a Sea Level Canal

Alternatives for "saving the Salton Sea" have been evaluated since 1955. Early concepts included costly "pipe in/pipe out" options, which would import lower salinity seawater from the Gulf of California or Pacific Ocean and export higher salinity Salton Sea water; evaporation ponds that would serve as a salt sink, and large dam structures that would partition the sea into a marine lake portion and a brine salt sink portion. Others advocate building a sea-level canal to the Salton Sea from the Gulf of California. Given that the Sea is over 200 feet (60m) below sea level, a sea level canal would allow thousands of tons of lower salinity sea water to flow into the Sea without costly pumping or pipelines. Such a canal could be built large enough for recreational use and by ocean going vessels. A sea level canal would promote dual purposes as an inland port for Southern California and also serve as a recreational/environmental asset along its course for humans and wildlife in Mexico and the U.S. A sea level canal would also likely provide a way to regulate the shoreline of the Sea in a predictable manner. However, without a means to export salt, even this approach would eventually leave the sea with ever-increasing salinity levels.

In the late 1990s, the Salton Sea Authority, a local joint powers agency, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, spearheaded efforts to evaluate and develop an alternative to save the Salton Sea. A Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, which did not specify a preferred alternative, was released for public review in 2000.

Since that time, the Salton Sea Authority has developed a preferred concept [] that involves the construction of a large dam that would impound water to create a marine sea in the northern and southern parts of the sea and along the western edge. The plan has been subject to some criticism for failing to properly address ecosystem needs, and for engineering practicality concerns such as local faulting, potentially devastating to such a plan.

Criticisms of the preferred plan issued by the Salton Sea Authority included:

*Construction failure when identified 200 feet (60m) of sediments fail to hold up the rock structures placed on top of them.
*Geological catastrophe when a major earthquake hits the nearby San Andreas Fault (feet (meters) away from the east end of the dike).
*Physical catastrophic failure as water is depleted from the south pond and water pressure pushes across the north pond against the soft sedimentary underlayment.
*Possible catastrophic failure by water blowing under the dike as water from the higher north pond etches its way under the dike.
*Massive alkali storms blowing across the area destroying crops from the south basin [] exposing dried salt sediments resulting in crop damage and increased respiratory problems.

Many other concepts have been proposed [] , including piping water from the Sea to a wetland in Mexico, Laguna Salada (Mexico), as a means of salt export, and one by Aqua Genesis Ltd to bring in sea water from the Gulf of California, desalinate it at the Sea using available geothermal heat, and selling the water to pay for the plan. [3] This concept [] would involve the construction of over 20 miles (30 km) of pipes and tunneling, however, with the increasing demand for water at the coastline would provide an additional 1,000,000 acre feet (1.2 km³) of water to Southern California coastal cities each year, according to SDSU Professor Ronald A. Newcomb, SDSU College of Sciences, Center for Advanced Water Technologies.

Current state restoration process

The California State Legislature, by legislation enacted in 2003 and 2004 (SB 277 [] , SB 317 [] , SB 654 [] and SB 1214 [] ), directed the Secretary of the California Resources Agency to prepare a restoration plan for the Salton Sea ecosystem, and an accompanying Environmental Impact Report. As part of this effort, which is based on State legislation enacted in 2003 and 2004, the Secretary for Resources has established an Advisory Committee to provide recommendations to assist in the preparation of the Ecosystem Restoration Plan, including consultation throughout all stages of the alternative selection process. The California Department of Water Resources and California Department of Fish and Game are leading the effort to develop a preferred alternative for the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem and the protection of wildlife dependent on that ecosystem. The Secretary of Resources is required to submit a report to the legislature, including a preferred alternative, by 2006 December 31.

On 2008 January 24, the California Legislative Analysis Office released a report entitled "Saving the Salton Sea" [] . The preferred alternative outlined within this draft plan calls for spending a total of almost $9 billion over 25 years and proposes a smaller but more manageable Salton Sea. The amount of water available for use by humans and wildlife would be reduced by 60 percent from 365 square miles (945 square kilometers) to about 147 square miles (381 square kilometers). Fifty two miles (84km) of barrier and perimeter dikes - constructed most likely out of boulders, gravel and stone columns - would be erected along with earthen berms to corral the water into a horseshoe shape along northern shoreline of the sea from San Felipe Creek on the west shore to Bombay Beach on the east shore. The central portion of the sea would be allowed to almost completely evaporate and would serve as a brine sink, while the southern portion of the sea would be constructed into a saline habitat complex. If approved, construction on this project is slated to begin in 2011 and would be completed by 2035.

Media attention

The 2006 documentary film "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea" (narrated by John Waters) documents the lives of the inhabitants of Bombay Beach, Niland, and Salton City, as well as the ecological issues associated with the Sea. [ [ "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea"] ]

The cover of Linkin Park's newest album "Minutes to Midnight" is a photo of the six band members with the Salton Sea in the background. The video for Divine Heresy's single "Failed Creation" was also filmed there. [cite news|url=|title=Divine Heresy Holding Their Breath For Vomit Footage|publisher="Mtv News"|date=2007-09-07|accessdate=2007-09-18]

The film "The Monster that Challenged the World" (1957), starring Tim Holt, was shot in and around The Salton Sea. [ [ "The Monster that Challenged the World"] - IMDb]

The lake also appears in the 2002 movie "The Salton Sea" with Val Kilmer.

The film "Highway Dragnet" (1954) has a final sequence that takes place at The Salton Sea. [ [ "Highway Dragnet"] - IMDb]

The song "Salton Sea" from the album the midget, the speck and the molecule by The Swirling Eddies provides a mystical take on life by the Salton Sea.

The song "The Salton Sea" by betriebsbereit describes the Salton Sea as an apocalyptic place. [ [ "betriebsbereit- The Salton Sea"] ]

The episode "Engineering Disasters 18" of The History Channel's show "Modern Marvels" showcased the creation and current rehabilitation efforts of the Salton Sea.

The episode "Future Conditional" (#302) from the series "Journey to Planet Earth" (narrated by Matt Damon) talks about the plight of the sea, and if nothing is done, a repeat of the fate of the Aral Sea will occur. [ [ "Future Conditional" (#302)] - "Journey to Planet Earth"]

In the movie "Into the Wild" the main character Alexander Supertramp climbs a mountain from which he claims to be able to see the Salton Sea.

The 1926 film "The Winning of Barbara Worth", starring Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, and the best-selling fictional novel (1911) it was based on by Harold Bell Wright, are loosely based on the history of the creation of the Salton Sea, depicting the flooding of the Colorado River. [ [ "The Winning of Barbara Worth"] - IMDb]

On 1958 July 11 the radio station KPFA broadcast a documentary called "The Salton Sea disaster" as part of its California Calamities series. This recording is currently stored at the Pacifica Radio Archives in North Hollywood.

In the August 4, 2008 episode of , on the Travel Channel, Tony visits and documents the culinary and cultural life of Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.


*Stevens, Joseph E. "Hoover Dam." University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. (Extensive details on the Salton Sea disaster.)
*Metzler, Chris and Springer, Jeff - "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea" Tilapia Film, [2006] - Thorough history of the first 100 years at the Salton Sea and the prospects for the future -

Additional photos

External links

* [ Documentary - "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea" - narrated by John Waters]
* [ Salton Sea Authority]
* [ Salton Basin chronology]
* [ Salton Basin overview]
* [ Salton Sea overview]
* [ Salton Sea data and other resources]
* [ Salton Sea Portal] at the Digital Universe
* [ US Bureau of Reclamation's Salton Sea Restoration Project Office]
* [ "National Geographic" photos of the Salton Sea]
* [ Geothermal energy generation in Imperial Valley]
* [ Calexico New River Committee, New River Tributary]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Salton Sea — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Salton Sea Pelícanos blancos en la orilla norte del Salton Sea …   Wikipedia Español

  • Salton Sea —   [ sɔːltn siː], Salzsee in Südkalifornien, USA, in der Coloradowüste, 777 km2, 20 m tief, Seespiegelhöhe 72 m unter dem Meeresspiegel. Der Salzsee befindet sich in einer Senke (Salton Sink), die einst den nördlichen Teil des Golfs von… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Salton Sea — [sôlt′ n] [prob. coined < SALT] shallow saltwater lake, orig. a salt covered depression (Salton Sink), in the Imperial Valley, S Calif., kept filled by runoff water from irrigation ditches fed by the Colorado River: c. 350 sq mi (906 sq km); c …   English World dictionary

  • Salton Sea —  Pour l’article homonyme, voir Salton Sea (film).  Salton Sea Pélicans blanc sur la rive nord de la Salton Sea …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Salton Sea — Der Saltonsee, aufgenommen vom Space Shuttle Dieser Artikel oder Abschnitt ist nicht hinreichend mit Belegen (Literatur, Webseiten oder Einzelnachweisen) versehen. Die fraglichen Angaben werden d …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Salton Sea — Sp Sòltono ẽžeras Ap Salton Sea L JAV (Kalifornija) …   Pasaulio vietovardžiai. Internetinė duomenų bazė

  • Salton Sea — /sawl teuhn, tn/ a shallow saline lake in S California, in the Imperial Valley, formed by the diversion of water from the Colorado River into a salt covered depression (Salton Sink). 236 ft. (72 m) below sea level. * * * Saline lake, southeastern …   Universalium

  • Salton Sea — geographical name saline lake about 235 feet (72 meters) below sea level SE California at N end of Imperial Valley formed by diversion of water from Colorado River into depression called Salton Sink …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Salton Sea — formerly Salton Sink …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Salton Sea — Sal′ton Sea′ [[t]ˈsɔl tn[/t]] n. geg a shallow saline lake in S California, in the Imperial Valley, formed by the diversion of water from the Colorado River into a salt covered depression(Sal′ton Sink′). 236 ft. (72 m) below sea level …   From formal English to slang

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