Life–or Death–In the Salton Sea


WESTMORLAND, Calif.–About 40 miles north of the Mexican border in southeastern California is a large, salt-water lake known to the world as the Salton Sea.  It is the largest inland sea in the world, and the saltiest.

Originally a small piece of ancient Lake Cahuilla, the Salton Basin is about 380 square miles and ranges in depth to a maximum of 51 feet.  In 1905, dams used to diverge the Colorado River failed, flooding the basin without stopping until 1907.  Since then the sea has been fed by natural runoff from surrounding mountains and agricultural irrigation.

Throughout the last 100 years, the sea has had periods of shrinking and expanding shorelines along with large die-offs of fish and fowl, creating a reputation for the lake as a “dead sea” in the public’s eye.  Part of the blame lies with rising salinity in the water, which is currently 10 times saltier than the Pacific Ocean.

Along the shoreline is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge–2,200 acres of freshwater marshlands and home to more than 460 species of birds.  The Salton Sea’s salty waters are the refuge’s habitat.

Dozens of proposals over the last 20 years to “fix” the Salton Sea have gone no where. The latest—a 25-year, $9 billion plan—has been languishing in legislative chambers since 2007.

Life is still abundant, albeit fragile, in the Salton Sea region, as reflected in the following slideshow:

The Salton Sea is one of the primary wintering grounds in the Pacific Flyway for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.  Much like their human “snow bird” counterparts in RV’s and winter homes, ducks and geese find refuge here from the cold northern regions every year.  The following video represents one moment in the lives of a flock of Ross’s geese in November 2011.

5 thoughts on “Life–or Death–In the Salton Sea

  1. Another good job, Kate! Maybe you could file updates if an when they ever get around to “fixing” the Salton Sea.

  2. Great Job Kate!
    The connection between the visitors from Canada and the migratory birds was excellent; I guess that is why they are known as SnowBirds (the people.)
    How about a follow up article comparing our little Imperial Valley with Yellowstone (eagles, mini geysers (mud pots), volcano island etc. Just no wolves.
    Again, Awesome job. Keep it going. Mom and Dad are proud of you.

  3. “It is the largest inland sea in the world, and the saltiest”. Some fact-checking is needed. Perhaps it’s the largest inland sea in California, but not largest in the United States, and certainly not the world. Examples: The Aral Sea, Utah’s Great Salt Lake, any of the Great Lakes. “Inland sea” versus “lake” is a matter of words, with “inland sea” narrowing the definition to “lakes that have no outlet”. As for saltiest, the Great Salt Lake is saltier, as is California’s Mono Lake (which has no outlet).

  4. Check also on your claims that the Salton Sea is ten times saltier that the ocean. I believe that it’s more like 1.5 times saltier. Ocean is 3.5% salt and Salton sea is 4.4% salt.

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