Maybe the 1905 formation of the Salton Sea wasn’t the result of engineering incompetence?

Jenny Ross has a fascinating new paper suggesting we reconsider the story we all thought we knew about the formation of the Salton Sea:

It is widely thought that the Salton Sea was created accidentally in 1905-07 because of engineering negligence in the diversion of Colorado River water for agricultural use in California’s Imperial Valley. This is a misconception. Scientific data and historical records establish that formation of the Salton Sea was not accidental. The lake formed during 1905-07 in the same manner that numerous other large Salton Basin lakes did for at least tens of thousands of years from the Late Pleistocene through the late 19th century: as a result of the lower Colorado River’s natural hydrodynamic regime, floodplain morphodynamics, and established avulsion style in combination with changes in streamflow attributable to regional hydroclimate. A large body of scientific and historical evidence indicates the 1905-07 Colorado River flooding into the Salton Basin and the creation of a large lake there would have occurred regardless of man-made modifications to the river’s natural levee and distributary channels. In fact, the flooding would likely have been even worse in the absence of human intervention.

I love it when the stuff we thought we knew turns out to maybe be wrong!

One Comment

  1. Tulare Lake was drained by actions taken by humans. There is a c. 1870s geologic map of the State of California with no Salton Sea and a full Tulare Lake. Supposedly the BLM office in Bakersfield has maps of Tulare Lake dating from 1850 to 1880, when it was known as the largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi River. It all depends upon your baseline, when assigning geomorphic changes reflecting precipitation variability, to human intervention.

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