Imperial and Riverside Counties, California, U.S.
|Type||Endorheic rift lake|
|Primary inflows||Alamo River
|Catchment area||8,360 square miles (21,700 km2)|
|Basin countries||United States|
|Surface area||974 km2 (376 sq mi)|
|Max. depth||16 m (52 ft)|
|Water volume||9,300,000 dam3 (7,500,000 acre·ft)|
|Surface elevation||−69 m (226 ft) (below sea level)|
|Settlements||Bombay Beach, Desert Beach, Desert Shores, Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, North Shore|
|References||U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Salton Sea|
The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Like Death Valley, it is below sea level. Currently, its surface is 226 ft (69 m) below sea level. The deepest point of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo Rivers, as well as agricultural runoff, drainage systems, and creeks.
The sea was created by a flood in 1905, in which water from the Colorado River flowed into the area. While it varies in dimensions and area with fluctuations in agricultural runoff and rainfall, the Salton Sea averages 15 mi (24 km) by 35 mi (56 km). With an estimated surface area of 362 square miles (940 km2) or 376 square miles (970 km2), the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. The average annual inflow is 1,360,000 acre·ft (1,680,000 dam3), which is enough to maintain a maximum depth of 52 ft (16 m) and a total volume of about 7,500,000 acre·ft (9,300,000 dam3).
The lake's salinity, about 44 g/l, is greater than that of the waters of the Pacific Ocean (35 g/l), but less than that of the Great Salt Lake (which ranges from 50 to 270 g/l). The concentration increases by about 1% annually.
- 1 History
- 2 Ecology
- 3 Increasing salinity
- 4 Earthquake geology
- 5 Water temperature
- 6 In popular culture
- 7 View
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Geologists estimate that for 3 million years, at least through all the years of the Pleistocene glacial age, the Colorado River worked to build its delta in the southern region of the Imperial Valley. Eventually, the delta had reached the western shore of the Gulf of California (the Sea of Cortez/Cortés), creating a massive barrier that excluded the Salton Sea from the northern reaches of the Gulf. Were it not for this barrier, the entire Salton Sink, along with the Imperial Valley, including most of the area occupied by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, would all be submerged, as the Gulf would extend as far north as Indio.
As a result, the Salton Sink or Salton Basin has long been alternately a freshwater lake and a dry desert basin, depending on river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. A lake would exist only when it was replenished by the rivers and rainfall, a cycle that repeated itself countless times over hundreds of thousands of years – most recently when the lake was recreated in 1905.
Some evidence indicates the basin was occupied periodically by multiple lakes. Wave-cut shorelines at various elevations are still preserved on the hillsides of the east and west margins of the present lake, the Salton Sea, showing that the basin was occupied intermittently as recently as a few hundred years ago. The last of the Pleistocene lakes to occupy the basin was Lake Cahuilla, also periodically identified on older maps as Lake LeConte or the Blake Sea, after American professor and geologist William Phipps Blake.
Once part of a vast inland sea that 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 Colorado River. In a railroad survey completed in 1855, 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 Native American tribe) and "Cabazon Valley" (after a local Native American 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.
Accidental creation of the current Salton Sea
In 1900, the California Development Company began construction of irrigation canals to divert water from the Colorado River into the Salton Sink, a dry lake bed. After construction of these irrigation canals, the Salton Sink became fertile for a time, allowing farmers to plant crops.
Within two years, the Imperial Canal became filled with silt from the Colorado River. Engineers tried to alleviate the blockages to no avail. In 1905, heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell, overrunning a set of headgates for the Alamo Canal. The resulting flood poured down the canal, breached an Imperial Valley dike, and down two former dry arroyos: the New River in the west, and the Alamo River in the east, each about 60 mi (97 km) long. Over a period of about two years, these two newly created rivers sporadically carried the entire volume of the Colorado River into the Salton Sink.
The Southern Pacific Railroad attempted to stop the flooding by dumping earth into the canal's headgates area, but the effort was not fast enough, and as the river eroded deeper and deeper into the dry desert sand of the Imperial Valley, a large waterfall was created that started to cut rapidly upstream along the path of the Alamo Canal that now was occupied by the Colorado. This waterfall was initially 15 ft (4.6 m) high, but grew to a height of 80 ft (24 m) before the flow through the breach was finally stopped. Originally, the waterfall was feared to recede upstream to the true main path of the Colorado, attaining a height of up to 100 to 300 ft (30 to 91 m), from where it would be practically impossible to fix the problem. As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Southern Pacific Railroad siding, and Torres-Martinez Native American 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.
The continuing, intermittent flooding of the Imperial Valley from the Colorado River led to the idea of the need for a dam on the Colorado River for flood control. Eventually, the federal government sponsored survey parties in 1922 that explored the Colorado River for a dam site, ultimately leading to the construction of Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, which was constructed beginning in 1929 and completed in 1935. The dam effectively put an end to the flooding episodes in the Imperial Valley.
The Salton Sea had some success as a resort area, with Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, and Desert Shores on the western shore and Desert Beach, North Shore, and Bombay Beach built on the eastern shore in the 1950s. The town of Niland is 3 km southeast of the sea, as well. The evidence of geothermal activity is also visible. Mudpots and mud volcanoes are found on the eastern side of the Salton Sea.
Due to the high salinity and the New river, very few fish species can tolerate living in the Salton Sea. Tilapia are virtually the only fish that can tolerate the high salinity levels and pollution. However, other freshwater fish species live in the rivers and canals that feed the Salton Sea, including threadfin shad, carp, red shiner, channel catfish, white catfish, largemouth bass, mosquitofish, sailfin molly, and the endangered desert pupfish.
The Salton Sea has been termed a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity" by Dr. Milt Friend of the Salton Sea Science Office. Over 400 species have been documented at the Salton Sea. It supports 30% of the remaining population of the American white pelican. The Salton Sea is also a major resting stop on the Pacific Flyway. On 18 November 2006, a Ross's gull, a high Arctic bird, was sighted and photographed there.
The lack of an outflow means the Salton Sea is a system of accelerated change. Variations in agricultural runoff cause fluctuations in water level (and flooding of surrounding communities in the 1950s and 1960s), and the relatively high salinity of the inflow feeding the sea has resulted in ever increasing salinity. By the 1960s, the salinity of the Salton Sea was rising, jeopardizing some of the species in it. It has a salinity exceeding 4.0% w/v (saltier than seawater), and many species of fish can no longer survive. Once the salinity surpasses 4.4% w/v, only tilapia will survive. Fertilizer runoffs combined with the increasing salinity have resulted in large algal blooms and elevated bacterial levels. A freshwater fish notable for its ability to withstand the rising salinity of the Salton Sea, the desert pupfish, can survive salinities ranging from 0.0% to 7.0%.
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 it is over 200 ft (60 m) 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 ocean-going vessels. A sea-level canal would promote both an inland port for Southern California and a recreational/environmental asset along its course for humans and wildlife. A sea-level canal would also probably provide a way to regulate the shoreline of the sea in a predictable manner.
Much of the current interest in the sea was sparked in the 1990s by Congressman Sonny Bono. His widow, Mary Bono Mack, elected to fill his seat, has continued to be interested in the Salton Sea, as has Representative Jerry Lewis of Redlands. In 1998, the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Project was named for the politician.
In the late 1990s, the Salton Sea Authority, a local joint powers agency, and the US Bureau of Reclamation began 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[full citation needed] 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.
Many other concepts have been proposed, including piping water from the sea to a wetland in Mexico, Laguna Salada, as a means of salt export, and one by Aqua Genesis Ltd to bring in seawater from the Gulf of California, desalinate it at the sea using available geothermal heat, and sell the water to pay for the plan. This concept would involve the construction of over 20 mi (30 km) of pipes and tunneling, and, with the increasing demand for water at the coastline, would provide an additional 1,000,000 acre feet (1,200,000 dam3) of water to Southern California coastal cities each year.
State restoration plan
The California State Legislature, by legislation enacted in 2003 and 2004, 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 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. 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.
On January 24, 2008, the California Legislative Analyst's Office released a report titled "Restoring the Salton Sea." The preferred alternative outlined in the draft plan calls for spending 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% from 365 mi2 (945 km2) to about 147 mi2 (381 km2). About 52 mi (84 km) 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 the 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. Construction on the project would be completed by 2035.
The Salton Sea and surrounding basin sits over the San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Fault, Imperial Fault Zone, and a "stepover fault" shear zone system. Geologists have determined that previous flooding episodes from the Colorado River have been linked to earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. Sonar and other instruments were used to map the Salton Sea's underwater faults during the study. During the period when the basin was filled by Lake Cahuilla, a much larger inland sea, earthquakes higher than magnitude 7 occurred roughly every 180 years, the last one occurring within decades of the year 1700. Computer models suggest the normal faults in the area are most vulnerable to deviatoric stress loading by filling in of water. Currently, a risk still exists for an earthquake of magnitude 7 or 8. Simulations also showed, in the Los Angeles area, shaking and thus damage would be more severe for a San Andreas earthquake that propagated along the fault from the south, rather than from the north. Such an earthquake also raises the risk for soil liquefaction in the Imperial Valley region.
The effective drainage divide that separates the Salton Sea from the Gulf of California is about 9 m (30 ft) in elevation and is located near Delta, northeastern Baja California State, Mexico, south-southeast of Mexicali. Past sea level rise may partially be responsible for the salinity of the lake, while potential future changes in sea levels could occur. However, other factors such as hydrothermal vents, diffusion of salt from minerals and sediment, including concentrated brine, and evaporites are another contributor to salinity, as is the recent lowering of lake levels raising the salinity, though sedimentary records show the lake surface elevation reached levels 10–12 m above world sea level in the 1500s.
The temperature of the water changes very drastically over the course of the year, which is mostly due to the equally varying air temperature. Winter lows can reach temperatures as low as 50 °F (10 °C) and summer highs can reach 95 °F (35 °C).
In popular culture
- The documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, narrated by John Waters, covers the first 100 years of the Salton Sea, along with the environmental issues and offbeat residents of the region.
- A six-minute short film, The Accidental Sea, filmed and narrated by Ransom Riggs, briefly discusses the history and depicts the desolation since the area's abandonment.
- The History Channel's 2006 episode "Engineering Disasters 18" (#13-04), from the television documentary series Modern Marvels, describes the combined manmade and natural events leading to the creation of the Salton Sea in the early 20th century, its brief popularity as a resort destination midcentury, and its subsequent decline due to high salinity and farm runoff. Impacts to Salton Sea fish and bird populations are addressed and future plans to rescue the sea are described.
- The 2002 motion picture The Salton Sea starred Val Kilmer.
- The episode "Future Conditional" (#302) from the series Journey to Planet Earth (narrated by Matt Damon) talks about the plight of the sea, and how, if nothing is done, a repeat of the fate of the Aral Sea will occur.
- The episode "Holiday Hell" (#206) from the series Life After People uses the Salton Sea as an example of how a resort town like Palm Springs, California would decay if no humans were there to maintain it.
- Portions of the 1954 crime drama Highway Dragnet, starring Richard Conte, were filmed at the Salton Sea.
- The Salton Sea is the setting for the 1957 United Artists science fiction film The Monster That Challenged the World.
- The 1926 silent film The Winning of Barbara Worth, starring Gary Cooper and Ronald Colman, based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright, includes a fictional depiction of the flood that created the Salton Sea.
- A film about some residents of the Bombay Beach community on the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, was made in 2010 by Israeli-born filmmaker Alma Har’el, and described by The New York Times as a "surreal documentary". The film won first prize in the feature documentary section of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011.
- The Salton Sea was the inspiration for the Alamo Sea in the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V. 
- A visit to Salton Sea inspired filmmaker Curtis Harrington to make his dreamlike 1949 short film On the Edge,  which extensively utilizes the bubbling mudpots on the edge of sea. In a 1971 interview, Harrington stated, "The location I used is entirely covered by water now; the sea has risen to cover it."
- "Restoration of the Salton Sea Final Report December 2007 - Chapter 1. Introduction". U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
- Bali KM (5 October 2013). "Salton Sea Salinity and Saline Water". UC Davis, Cooperative Extension Imperial County. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
- Alles, DL (2007-08-06). "Geology of the Salton Trough". Biology Department. Western Washington University. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- Singer E. "Ancient Lake Cahuilla – Geology of the Imperial Valley". Retrieved 2009-07-10.[dead link]
- The Salton Sea – Its Beginnings. Accessed 2010-06-14
- Carpelan, Lars H. History of the Salton Sea
- "THE SALTON SEA CALIFORNIA'S OVERLOOKED TREASURE Chapter 4".
- Detailed maps, and a film of the breach (and subsequent redamming) are in Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a 2006 documentary
- Laflin, P. "THE SALTON SEA CALIFORNIA'S OVERLOOKED TREASURE". Coachella Valley Historical Society. pp. 21–26. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
- Kennan, G (1917). The Salton Sea: An Account of Harriman's Fight With The Colorado River. New York: The MacMillan Company. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
- Larkin, EL (1907). "A Thousand Men Against A River: The Engineering Victory Over The Colorado River And The Salton Sea". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XIII: 8606–10. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
- Lynch, DK; Hudnut, KW (2008). "The Wister Mud Pot Lineament: Southeastward Extension or Abandoned Strand of the San Andreas Fault?". Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 98 (4): 1720–9. doi:10.1785/0120070252.
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2008). Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge: Wildlife List (PDF).
- NASA page: "Algal bloom in the Salton Sea, California".
- Dudek and ICF International (2012). Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) Baseline Biology Report. (Draft). Prepared for the California Energy Commission.
- CNN article: "Salton Sea rescue to be named for Sonny Bono".
- State of California
- sandiegoreader.com; San Diego Union Times: Ronald Newcomb's Salton Sea proposal
- Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Program
- Ross, JE (July 27, 2011). "Flooding of Ancient Salton Sea Linked to San Andreas Earthquakes". Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. Scripps Oceanography News. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
- Tingle, A. "Flood Maps". Firetree.net. Flood. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
- Wardlaw, GD; Valentine DL (January 2005). "Evidence for salt diffusion from sediments contributing to increasing salinity in the Salton Sea, California". Hydrobiologia 533 (1–3): 77–85. doi:10.1007/s10750-004-2395-8. Retrieved 31 July 2011.[dead link]
- "The Accidental Sea". August 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
- "Engineering Disasters 18 DVD". Retrieved February 11, 2013.
- "Stories of Hope: Palm Springs" – Journey to Planet Earth
- "Life after people" (#206) – Life after people
- Highway Dragnet at the American Film Institute Catalog
- "The Monster that Challenged the World". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- Holden, Stephen (October 13, 2011). "Last Resort Remains an Oasis of Dreams". The New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- "Awards for Bombay Beach". IMDb.com. January 11, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- Goldberg, Harold (December 9, 2013). "Criminal Mind: The Reclusive Genius Behind the Grand Theft Auto Franchise". Playboy. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
- Harrington, Curtis (2013). Nice Guys Don't Work in Hollywood: The Adventures of an Aesthete in the Movie Business. Drag City. ISBN 978-1937112073.
- "Curtis Harrington's On the Edge". youtube.com. June 18, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- Gow, Gordon (August 1971). "Up from the Underground: Curtis Harrington". Films and Filmmaking 17 (11): 17.
- Salton Trough July 29, 2013
- Metzler, Chris and Springer, Jeff – Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Tilapia Film, (2006) – history of the Salton Sea, and interviews with residents and naturalists.
- Stevens, Joseph E. Hoover Dam. University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. details on the Salton Sea disaster
- Stringfellow, Kim Greetings from the Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005. Columbia College Chicago Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-935195-32-0
- Setmire, James G., et al. (1993). Detailed study of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1988–90 [Water-Resources Investigations Report 93-4014]. Sacramento, Calif.: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
- Setmire, James G., Wolfe, John C., and Stroud, Richard K. (1990). Reconnaissance investigation of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1986–87 [Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4102]. Sacramento, Calif.: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
- Sperry RL (Winter 1975). "When the Imperial Valley Fought for its Life". Journal of San Diego History 21 (1).
- Greenfield S (Winter 2006). "A Lake by Mistake". Invention & Technology 21 (3).[dead link]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Salton Sea.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Salton Sea.|
- Official Salton Sea Authority website
- U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: Salton Sea Restoration Project Office
- Abandoned USA.com: Photos of the Salton Sea
- Salton Basin overview
- Salton Sea data and other resources
- Mavensmanor.com: "From the Colorado River to the Salton Sea: The story of Imperial Valley's Water" — slideshow.
- "The Salton Sea" — Photo Essay by Scott London
- National Geographic photos of the Salton Sea
- Calexico New River Committee, New River Tributary
- GoogleBooks.com: The Salton Sea: An account of Harriman's fight with the Colorado River
- Youtube.com: "The Accidental Sea"
- Howser, Huell (October 3, 1999). "Salton Sea – Visiting (705)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archives.
- Saltonseadocumentary.com: Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea — documentary film.