Sorting out the Salton Sea mess

I joke that I kept trying to leave the Salton Sea out of my book, because it’s such a hairy problem that in threatened to derail me in so many ways. Of course I failed, because the Sea is a critical piece of solving the distributional problems of scarce Colorado River water. Agricultural reductions in the Imperial Valley reduce tailwater flows to the Sea, shrinking critical habitat and creating health risks for the communities that surround it. (Mike Cohen offers a good rundown of the issues here.)

Via Ian James, some modest but encouraging news this week on that front:

The federal government plans to spend $3 million this year constructing a new wetland along the Alamo River in order to rehabilitate habitats and help clean up some of the polluted water flowing into the Salton Sea.

$3m is just a fraction of what is needed, but it’s bigger than zero.


  1. Since i’m a lawyer I approach problems like the Salton Sea through the perspective of the various applicable statutes, like NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act, for the uninitiated) and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).

    Pursuant to NEPA and CEQA, public agencies engaged in the analysis of the environmental impacts of their action must first understand the baseline condition against which the impacts can be measured. And there is no real dispute that the baseline for the Salton Sea was that even before the QSA it was inexorably trending towards hypersalinity and the death of a lot of the fish in the Sea and the death and displacement of birds that used the Sea as part of the Pacific Flyway.

    If the Sea is going hypersaline anyway, what is the environmental impact of moving forward that date a few years by shipping saved water to San Diego? Do you measure lost life-years of the fish and birds? Or the loss of opportunity to find a solution? This problem is essentially unsolveable by standard application of environmental laws.

    Which is a roundabout way of getting to my point. The problems with the Sea will not, indeed cannot, be addressed simply by the application of existing laws. Instead the various federal, state, regional and local interests across a range of disciplines from endangered species to public health need to develop an affordable communal solution that is at least minimally acceptable. Unfortunately, most solutions that do not contemplate abandoning the Sea to hypersalinity are very expensive. But if we fail to act, then I strongly suspect that in 30 years’ time the next generation of leaders on this issue will discover that our failure ended up levying even higher costs. How long has DWP been fighting with Inyo County anyway?

  2. thnk big and think long term. geothermal energy is there and could be used to not only generate electricity, but then some of that electricity could be used to clean the water, remove salts and pollutants and turn the whole thing into paradise. 🙂

    yes, think big. the world needs such thoughts, even if they take a long time to bear fruit.

  3. Pingback: The week that was, February 7-13, 2016 | Chance of Rain

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