County Contract with Engineering Firm Sets Salton Sea Project in Motion

Source: MynewsLA.com

Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved a $4.12 million contract with an Encinitas-based firm to provide engineering and design services for a project to revitalize a portion of the dying Salton Sea.

“We’ve been working on this project for several years now,” Salton Sea Authority Executive Director Patrick O’Dowd told the Board of Supervisors. “It’s a big day for the community of North Shore and a big day for Riverside County.”

The two-year agreement with Dudek Consulting formally marks initiation of the Salton Sea North Lake Pilot Demonstration Project, conceived four years ago.

Salton Sea

“With the Salton Sea, there have been lots of studies done over the last four or five decades,” said board Chairman Jeff Hewitt, who sits on the Salton Sea Authority Board. “There have been lots of things where hands went up in the air, so it’s great to see something happening where they’re going to be moving some dirt in a good way.”

Supervisor Manuel Perez, whose Fourth District encompasses the north end of the Salton Sea, pointed out that roughly $19 million in Proposition 68 funds have been allocated for the project. Prop 68 was approved in 2018 as the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection & Outdoor Access for All Act.

“More money is coming,” Perez said. “We’re working with our legislators to do what’s best. This is going to bring economic development, jobs, trailways and parks. People want amenities.”

The North Lake project was first discussed in 2018 and was ultimately incorporated into the larger revitalization effort, which envisions maintaining and improving segments of the 360-square-mile lake in Riverside and Imperial counties.

Salton Sea Contamination

According to documents posted to the board’s agenda, the North Lake project entails establishing 156 acres of shallow and deep marine habitat. About one mile of shallow water is slated to run along the sea’s north shoreline.

The Dudek contract anticipates jack and boring operations under Highway 111 and the acquisition of properties — probably 10 parcels — to serve as easements for a pipeline that could deliver 1,900 to 2,600 acre-feet of water to the lake annually.

Berms would need to be constructed, along with new utility access points and rights-of-way, according to county documents.

Recreational boating and fishing would be part of the new lake.

The contract stipulates that a range of analyses will have to be completed, assessing environmental impacts and other feasibility issues.

In October 2019, the board authorized formation of the Salton Sea Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District, though the concept awaits voter approval.

EIFDs were authorized under Senate Bill 628 in 2014 and permit bond sales to finance construction of private and public projects.

The sea has been allowed to erode to the point of eutrophication, killing off animal and plant life because of extreme salinity. An east wind in September 2012 created conditions for a sulphuric stench that wafted across Riverside County into the Los Angeles Basin. The overpowering odor lingered for hours.

Dust clouds kicked up on parts of dry lake bed have raised other health concerns.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District monitors the area and periodically issues odor and other advisories.

Water reclamation by local agencies and Mexico, plus the loss of Colorado River supplies that originally fed the Salton Sea, have caused water levels to drop and salinity to spike.

WATER 101: A Recap of Where We Are Amidst a Historic Drought

I Imperial Valley— Local farmers may soon be forced to bite the bullet and find ways to use significantly less water in 2023 — potentially for a lot longer.

This drastic measure may come as a result of an emergency water conservation effort to prevent further depletion of the Valley’s main source of water, the Colorado River. If less water flows down the Colorado River, the consequences could be catastrophic for the two reservoirs — lakes Mead and Powell — that feed into the so-called basin states.

For example, if water levels in Lake Mead continue dropping, it could bring water and hydropower to a grinding halt, all due to a relentless drought over two decades.

Measuring Water

The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest water agency in California, is nearing final negotiations with Arizona — one of the lower basin states — to see how much water each state will be able to conserve. And the bar is high.

In June, the federal Bureau of Reclamation requested the states, water agencies and Native tribes along the Colorado River basin to propose ways to collectively conserve up to 4 million acre-feet of water in 2023. They must all reach a deal by mid-August.

How this will impact the farmers who rely on the Colorado River to grow their crops and sustain the principal economic engine of the Imperial Valley can perhaps be better understood through the various ways the Imperial Irrigation District distributes water throughout the region, and how farmers make do with a persistent drought that seems to have no end.

Measuring Water

How much is an acre foot of water?

Water, in general, is measured by the acre-foot, meaning that one acre-foot covers an acre of land one foot deep. One acre-foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons, enough to supply a family of four or five for one year.

How much does the Imperial Valley get?

The IID is allocated 3.1 million acre-feet of water, of which some 500,000 acre-feet of water are transferred to other agencies including the Metropolitan Water District, San Diego County Water Authority, and the Coachella Valley Water District.

The remaining 2.5 million acre-feet of water are then distributed to farmers, residents and businesses throughout the Imperial Valley each year.

How much of it goes to farmers and how much to residents?

Of the 2.5 million acre-feet of water that does get distributed within the Imperial Valley, some 21,631 acre-feet of water is distributed to industrial and commercial users while some 32,580 acre-feet of water is distributed to residents.

In short, 97.8 percent of water goes to agriculture while just over 2 percent goes to residential, industrial and commercial users.

COMPLETE ARTICLE

Plans to Import Water to the Salton Sea Seek Approval

NBC PALM SPRINGS By Ceci Partridge

 

SALTON SEA PLAN

The Salton Sea Independent Review Panel has 3 viable ideas to restore the Salton Sea.

In a press release, the Independent Review Panel announced that there were 18 concepts submitted through “Request for Ideas” in 2017 and 2021. Of those 18 ideas, three made it to the top of the list. And one is to import water from the Sea of Cortez, a large body of water in Mexico.

“One of the options is to import water from out of the basin to restore sea level and also to reduce the salinity of the sea, which is now about twice the salinity of the ocean,” said Brent Haddad an investigator with UC Santa Cruz.

The panel conducted a Fatal Flaw Report to assess the feasibility of the top 3 ideas.

The Fatal Flaw report included 5 attributes that no viable approach to water should have, according to the panel.

These flaws include technology reliability, achieving restoration goals, not harming nearby protected habitats, minimizing risk of catastrophic flooding, and long-term project viability.

The report is the second of four reports to address sourcing water to the Salton Sea.

The full press release from the Independent Review Panel can be found by clicking here.

The Salton Sea Independent Review Panel consists of seven experts in different aspects of water-body restoration. The Panel is led by Panel Chair, Dr. Rominder Suri. Dr. Suri is Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Temple University, and founding director of Temple University’s NSF-funded Water, Environment, and Technology (WET) Center.

VIDEO

More information can be found at saltonsea.ca.gov.

Senate Advances Feinstein, Padilla Bill to Improve Salton Sea Air, Water, Wildlife Quality

Committee also advanced two of their bills to preserve public lands, natural resources, and historic sites

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.) applauded the Energy and Natural Resources committee for advancing their Salton Sea Projects Improvements Act, which would increase federal investment in ecological improvement projects at the Salton Sea and significantly expand federal partnerships with state, local and Tribal governments to address the public health and environmental crises at the Salton Sea.

“For years the Salton Sea has been receding, threatening the local ecosystem and creating toxic dust clouds that are harming the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “The Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced our bill that will make it easier for every level of government to work together to address the problem and provide the resources necessary to protect public health and restore vital habitat.”

“The environmental and public health crises at the Salton Sea have been neglected for too long, and it’s wreaking havoc on the environment and surrounding communities,” said Senator Padilla. “As the climate crisis continues to exacerbate the worst megadrought in over 1,200 years, and as the Bureau of Reclamation is asking states to conserve more Colorado River water supplies, now is the time to ensure that the federal government has the strongest tools to mitigate devastating impacts from the increasingly exposed Salton Sea lakebed. Importantly, my bill with Senator Feinstein and Representative Ruiz will better enable the federal government to advance environmental justice and protect the public health of the disadvantaged communities surrounding the lake. I’m glad to see this bill advance out of committee and I look forward to continuing to build momentum to pass this in the Senate.”

Salton Sea

“We need more action to address the pressing environmental and public health crisis at the Salton Sea,” said Dr. Ruiz. “My bill with Senators Padilla and Feinstein, the Salton Sea Projects Improvements Act, urgently opens up more resources and adds more flexibility to add more shovels to the ground on projects that protect the public’s health. I am impatient with our progress and will never stop working to strengthen our all-hands-on-deck approach to the environmental hazard at the Salton Sea.”

“We are excited to see this bill move forward to enable critical federal investment in improving conditions at the Salton Sea,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “This adds to a growing sense of momentum as the state’s Salton Sea Management Program works with local, Tribal and federal partners to break ground on projects around the sea to deliver on our commitments and advance environmental justice and equity for the region in the face of climate change.”

“I applaud Senators Padilla and Feinstein for moving this key legislation forward in the Senate to increase Bureau of Reclamation funding for the Salton Sea,” commented Salton Sea Authority Executive Director G. Patrick O’Dowd. “Last month, the Commissioner testified that she seeks major cuts to California’s Colorado River water supplies which would significantly impact the disadvantaged and tribal communities surrounding the Salton Sea,” O’Dowd continued. “The senators’ legislation is an important tool in the toolbox to help Reclamation meet its obligation to assess, fund and implement its own Salton Sea mitigation projects to address those federally-imposed impacts.”

“The Salton Sea Improvements Act is a huge step forward for the Sea and we thank Senator Padilla and Senator Feinstein for their efforts to move this legislation forward,” said Frank Ruiz, Audubon’s Salton Sea Program Director. “For decades, Audubon has dedicated time and resources to drive conservation efforts at the Sea and protect the birds and people who rely on this fragile ecosystem. We support this additional federal attention to bring solutions to the Sea and we urge swift passage of this bill.”

The committee also advanced the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act, the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site Expansion Act and the Rim of the Valley Corridor Protection Act. The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act would add an adjacent 3,925 acres to the current Monument, support tribal co-management and change the name of the additional wildlands from “Walker Ridge” to Molok Luyuk—Patwin for “Condor Ridge”—a name the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation provided. The Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site Expansion Act would add Nystrom Elementary School to the existing Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, CA and authorize the National Park Service to add other historically relevant sites to the park’s boundaries. The Rim of the Valley Corridor Protection Act would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

“I am so proud to represent the Richmond community and to work in Congress to ensure its contributions during WWII are recognized,” Congressman DeSaulnier said. “By preserving Nystrom Elementary School as part of the historic park, we honor the sacrifices made by the Rosies in Contra Costa County who worked on the home front and we help preserve their legacy for future generations.”

“Conserving California’s special places has been a lifelong passion throughout my tenure in the state legislature, as Deputy Secretary of the Interior to President Clinton, and now as a member of Congress representing Lake County. I introduced the ‘Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act’ in the U.S. House of Representatives to protect and expand the national monument, and I applaud Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein for championing this legislation in the United States Senate,” said Congressman John Garamendi.

“Back in 2016, I worked to designate the Berryessa Snow Mountain region as a National Monument,” said Congressman Mike Thompson. “Earlier this year, I was proud to join Rep. Garamendi to expand this designation and protect more of our pristine public lands. The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is crucial for protecting the biodiversity of the land and boosting our economy through recreational opportunities. I am glad the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act is being taken up in the Senate, led by Senators Feinstein and Padilla, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law by President Biden.”

“Molok Luyuk – or Condor Ridge – is a special part of Northern California and deserves special protections. We appreciate Senator Padilla and Feinstein’s leadership on this and their insistence that Native American voices be part of the conversation,” said Chairman Anthony Roberts of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. “Our ancestors traveled and traded there for centuries. With these protections, the unique resources on Molok Luyuk will endure, and Californians will be able to enjoy its natural beauty for generations to come.”

We are thrilled to see this legislation pass through the senate and grateful to the leadership of Senators Padilla and Feinstein in the work to expand Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument,” said Sandra Schubert, Executive Director of Tuleyome.“Molok Luyuk is a treasure. As neighbors we have long appreciated its natural beauty, diverse wildlife, rare plants, and indigenous cultural value. This is exciting progress in the effort to protect Molok Luyuk from current and future threats while respecting Tribal stewardship over the lands.”

PLAN

PLAN – Divide the sea at the county line separating Riverside and Imperial Counties. Create a road at that point to connect HWY 111 to HWY 80. Create groundwater pumping stations surrounding the sea to access the century of water that has permeated the ground. The water that is accessed has been organically filtered naturally through decades of Colorado River water displaced since 1905.
Rob
P.S. – this will work inexpensively if anyone would listen
Salton Sea Management Plan

Army Corps of Engineers releases Draft Environmental Assessment for SSMP 10-Year Plan

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and proposed Letter of Permission procedures for the State of California’s Salton Sea Management Program Phase 1: 10-Year Plan (SSMP 10-Year Plan). For more information and to view the official Corps documents please visit:  https://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Projects-Programs/.
As the federal lead agency, the Corps has prepared the Draft EA to analyze and disclose the effects of implementing the SSMP’s 10-Year Plan, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The SSMP 10-Year Plan proposes to implement a total of 29,800 acres of dust suppression and aquatic habitat restoration projects around the perimeter of the Salton Sea. At least 50 percent of the project acreage will be created as habitat for fish and wildlife that depend on the Salton Sea ecosystem and the remainder will be projects to suppress dust. Additionally, the Draft EA includes and evaluates actions by several federal agencies.
Public comments can be submitted on the Draft EA and proposed Letter of Permission procedures electronically to: splregssmp@usace.army.mil until 5:00pm (PST) on July 21, 2022.
In addition, the Corps will host three virtual public meetings to receive comments on the Draft EA and the Letter of Permission Procedures on the following dates and times:
July 7: 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.
July 12: 6 to 8 p.m.
Each of the three meetings will be the same and allow community members and stakeholders to provide input and official comments that will help shape the federal decision as to which projects are implemented, what community amenities are included, how potential environmental effects are addressed, and the proposed alternatives to be considered.
This vitally important comment period is your opportunity to help shape the projects coming to the Salton Sea as part of the SSMP’s 10-year Plan.
Spanish interpretation will be provided. Habrá interpretación al español.
Please click the link below to join the webinar:
Or join over the phone by dialing:
Teleconference Dial In: 888-278-0296
Access Code: 596019
Meeting ID: 81408174164
Facebook Live in Spanish: @SaltonSeaCOEE page
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Efforts underway to replenish dying Salton Sea in Imperial Valley

 

It was once called the Salton Riviera and a miracle in the desert.  The Salton Sea is different now; dead fish, decaying area, foul odor , and dangerous toxic fumes. It’s a wasteland.  Once California’s largest lake, now it’s on the verge of extinction, many claiming it is beyond repair.  Rodney Smith PhD., Managing Partner of the Sea To Sea Bi-National Canal Co., joined KUSI’s Logan Byrnes on “Good Evening San Diego” to discuss how he will save the dying Salton Sea.  Smith has a plan called SEA TO SEA where he wants to build a channel from the Sea of Cortez to the Salton Sea at a cost of 1.2 billion dollars.  This would be the first effort to review the tragedy and utter incompetence of the State on this issue.

VIDEO

Importing water to save the Salton Sea is long overdue. What are we waiting for?

the Salton Sea is drying
the Salton Sea is drying
Feliz Nunez Special to The Desert Sun

For various reasons, the Salton Sea is drying: rural-urban water transfers and sales, drought and manmade pollution. We have local water scarcity and poor-quality air. Due to urban population explosions, some of the Colorado River water that once went into the Salton Sea is now being sold to the Coachella Valley Water District, Los Angeles and San Diego. The Salton Sea is drying at a faster speed as temperatures rise and there is less water flowing into it. If we are to reverse the situation, this will demand decreasing water use and increasing the cost of water.

As the Salton Sea dries, air pollution rises as there is more dust, and it emits more stench in the form of hydrogen sulfide gas.  Waste and chemicals coming from the Imperial Valley, together with Mexicali’s population explosion, are an overwhelming septic cargo for outdated infrastructure. Wastewater plants that have not been updated allow raw sewage and industrial chemicals to escape into the Alamo and New Rivers. These so-called rivers drain additional pollutants into the Salton Sea. Beneath the shrinking lake lie other pollutants: munitions from the World War II era, tons of pesticides, fertilizers and organic dead matter, which when exposed to the air release carbon dioxide and methane.

Dust at Salton Sea

Owens Lake in Northern California became a disastrous dust bowl when the city of Los Angeles built a 200-mile aqueduct and completely drained the lake. This lifeless northern California site stretches for miles, with a patchwork of dust-control projects like furrowing, covering the lake bottom with gravel, plantings, and sprinkler systems costing $2.5 billion to install. There are millions more in maintenance costs every year.

Officials at the Salton Sea are following the Owens Lake path. Their ongoing practice of digging furrows and shallow ponds to control dust as more and more lakebed is exposed is questionable. Not only are these methods ineffective, they cause more greenhouse gas emissions!  The Salton Sea is three times bigger than Owens Lake, so following that path could cost an estimated $7.5 billion.

Politicians and state officials who favor using the “incremental approach” with patronizing dry measures and shallow-water fixtures have succeeded in the serial killing of fish and other wildlife, and we are heading toward ever-more inhospitable conditions for humans. Importing ocean water would immediately address respiratory ailments, reverse the effects of drought and curb pollution. But the high cost is the main argument against water importation. In my view that expense is worth it. Yes, it will cost money to be a community that respects and takes care of our air, water, and soil.

Unlike Owens Lake, the Salton Sea has two oceans close by; there are 13 proposals to build an aqueduct to import water — either from the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific Ocean. Leaders of the Salton Sea Management Authority have considered these proposals too costly. However, a feasibility study is now being conducted by UC Santa Cruz to evaluate the effectiveness of these plans to import water. Their report will be turned over in September to the Salton Sea Management Program’s Long Range Planning Committee.

It is uncertain if water Importation will pass the feasibility test. If passed, how much longer will it take to start the engineering for an aqueduct?

The engineering of water importation should have started with the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement that legalized redirecting Colorado River water away from the Salton Sea. The QSA also called for restoring the largest lake in California, the Salton Sea. What are we waiting for?

Commentary: How the Salton Sea Came to Be Viewed as a ‘Lost Cause’

The Missing Link in the U.S. EV Supply Chain
Salton Sea.
Many view the Salton Sea as an ecological disaster, or a wasteland. This public perception, which is bound up in environmental racism, continues to undermine conservation efforts.

The Salton Sea is a place of stunning contradictions. For decades, Californians have tried to figure out what to make of it. Often described as a “man-made” or “accidental,” the Salton Sea formed between 1905 and 1907 when the Colorado River overflowed from an irrigation project into a deep bowl in the desert floor in present-day Imperial County.

Settlers described this flooding as an unprecedented disaster, but soon found a purpose for the sea as a receptacle for runoff from Imperial Valley farms. During the 50s and 60s, the sea became a popular tourist attraction, but rising water from increased irrigation flooded its hotels and resorts, driving the tourists away. Rumors about the health effects of swimming and angling in the pesticide-contaminated water also influenced the decline of the resorts.

Salton Sea included in $172 million in funding for ports and waterways projects
Salton Sea

In 2003, the Imperial Valley transferred its Colorado River water rights to San Diego, and the Salton Sea, which had been sustained by runoff from the valley for most of the twentieth century, lost much of its inflow. As the sea started to shrink, it released pesticides and other toxins leading to massive fish and bird die-offs over the course of two decades.

My recent book explores how, at different times viewed as a disaster, a sump, and a health resort, the Salton Sea came to be commonly viewed as a wasteland. Policymakers struggled to raise funds—and popular support—for the sea’s conservation. The area around it, subsequently, has been used for the kinds of industrial projects reserved for places held in low regard: mines, prisons, and military bases.

The Salton Sea wasn’t just an accident, despite its reputation as the result of engineering mistakes made by early settlers. In fact, it is the most recent example of a natural cycle of Colorado River overflows that have filled this part of the desert for thousands of years. Floods from the Colorado River have been big and small—vast inundations that resulted in water bodies like Lake Cahuilla and relatively small overflow pools that evaporated within months.

EPA fines Imperial Irrigation District for endangering local wetlands

Contact Information
Julia Giarmoleo (giarmoleo.julia@epa.gov)

213-326-2033

IMPERIAL, Calif. (June 2, 2022) – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with California’s Imperial Irrigation District (IID) for violations of the Clean Water Act related to polluting of local wetlands. Under the settlement, Imperial Irrigation District will pay a $299,857 penalty and provide mitigation to offset the harm to the environment.

Wetlands Salton Sea

“This enforcement action reflects EPA’s continued commitment to ensuring public utilities like Imperial Irrigation District comply with federal laws and prevent pollution of wetlands,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “Actions like this are key to protecting our waterways and surrounding communities.”

On November 5, 2020, inspectors from EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspected IID’s construction of drain banks in the area and found that activities resulted in the discharge of sediment to approximately 1 acre of wetlands. This discharge also impacted approximately 20 acres of wetlands by severing the connection with Morton Bay, which drains to the Salton Sea.

In addition to paying the penalty, IID will develop a plan for the removal of the sediment in question and the restoration of the water connection to Morton Bay. If they are unable to restore the impacted site, IID would need to reestablish 63 acres of wetlands at an alternative location.

An overarching priority of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. A more specific federal goal is “No Net Loss” of wetlands by first avoiding, then minimizing, and finally compensating for any impacts to aquatic resources caused by the discharge of dredge or fill material into waters of the United States.

Wetlands Salton Sea

Wetlands protect and improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife habitats, store floodwaters, and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. EPA works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies to coordinate field research, damage assessments, and legal proceedings against entities who conduct unauthorized activities (e.g., dredging, filling, grading without a permit) in waters of the United States.

EPA has proposed a Consent Agreement and Final Order and is accepting public comment through July 5, 2022. View the public notice.

History of Lake Cahuilla before Salton Sea

Cahuilla Lake – Miragenews
San Diego State University

Today, the Salton Sea is an eerie place. Its mirror-like surface belies the toxic stew within. Fish skeletons line its shores and the ruins of a once thriving vacation playground is a reminder of better days. But long before agricultural runoff bespoiled the Salton Sea, the lakebed it now occupies was home to a much larger body of water known as Lake Cahuilla. The lake was six times the area of the Salton Sea and once covered much of Mexicali, Imperial and Coachella valleys.

“It was a freshwater lake that was about 100 meters deep in its deepest part,” said San Diego State University emeritus professor of geology Tom Rockwell. “It extended from up near Palm Springs southward into Mexico, so it was a very extensive lake.”

Lake Cahuilla has gone through many cycles of filling and drying out over thousands of years. A new study by Rockwell and his colleagues used radiocarbon dating to determine the timing of the last seven periods of filling. The research sheds light on both the history of human occupation in the area and its seismic past.

Wet and dry periods

Lake Cahuilla got its water from the Colorado River. Once a mighty waterway before it was siphoned off for agriculture and urbanization, the Colorado normally flowed south into the Gulf of California. But periodically, it switched course and began to drain northwest into the Salton Trough, refilling Lake Cahuilla. When full, the water level in the lake could rise to 13 meters above sea level.

“It has this tendency to flip-flop back and forth,” said Rockwell. “But when the Colorado drains to the Gulf of California, Lake Cahuilla would just dry up over a period of 50, 60, or 70 years.”

Sediments from these repeated filling events resulted in fertile soils in the Imperial Valley. An irrigation canal was created around 1900 to bring water from the Colorado River to the Valley for farming, but in 1905, springtime flooding ruptured the canal and gushed toward the Salton Trough, partially refilling the lake to form the Salton Sea. Once the breach was repaired, the water level remained well below that of Lake Cahuilla’s previous incarnations.

To reconstruct its early hydrologic history, Rockwell’s team sampled charcoal, wood, seeds and other organic matter from nearly a dozen in the former lake’s basin. The charcoal samples likely came from cooking fires once used by Indigenous people who inhabited the region.

 

Lake Cahuilla
Lake Cahuilla

Historical accounts told of the Colorado River flowing toward the Gulf of California rather than the Salton Trough in 1706, indicating that the lakebed was dry at that time. Based on radiocarbon dating of drowned stumps, Rockwell’s team determined that the last lake to form before the advent of the Salton Sea reached its highest point around 1731.

“But it had to have started drying up by 1732 or 33,” Rockwell said.

Based on an approximate rate of evaporation, that would have made it possible to completely dry out by the time Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition passed through the area in 1774 and reported that the lakebed had no water in it.