The Colorado River Basin

The Colorado River provides water to nearly 40 million people, flows through 9 National Parks, and drives a $1.4 trillion economy. If the Colorado River basin were a country, it would be the world’s 7th largest by economic output. But the river is stretched to its limit. Climate change and increasing water demand due to an expanding population is and will continue present significant challenges that if left unaddressed, will impact our regional and national economies, degrade the environment, challenge our agricultural heritage and food production, and limit recreational opportunities from fishing and boating to skiing.
The Upper Colorado River Basin, defined by the river network above Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona, is comprised of 4 states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Collectively, the Upper Basin States contribute the vast majority of the water coming in to the Colorado River Basin, primarily through winter snowpack, but with the impacts of climate change altering the amount of snowpack and timing of spring runoff, water supply in the Colorado River is increasingly strained.

Valley Voice: Why ‘fixing’ the Salton Sea with pipelines is unrealistic and too expensive

Valley Voice: Why ‘fixing’ the Salton Sea with pipelines is unrealistic and too expensive.

Alexander Schriener Jr. – Desert Sun, June 27, 2021

Once again, the chest beating for a sea-to-sea pipeline to “fix” the Salton Sea has begun. Here are a few facts are often ignored.

The Coachella Canal shows that it is possible to transport water long distances without pumping. That canal transports Colorado River water 122 miles to the Coachella Valley, all by gravity. It was completed in 1948, before current environmental regulations. According to the CVWD, this canal delivers about 280,000 acre-feet per year of water.

Assume a similar canal is used to transport sea water to the Salton Sea. It is estimated that the volume of the Salton Sea is 8 million acre-feet. The annual volume of the Coachella Canal is less than 4% of that. It is estimated that the New, Alamo and Whitewater rivers combined deliver 850,000 acre-feet a year of water to the Salton Sea. The Coachella Canal is only 33% of that volume.

Thus, you would need the equivalent of 3 Coachella Canals to equal the total flow of the three rivers, and that volume would not replenish the Salton Sea any more than the rivers do now.

Look at the chemistry of the water in the current lake. It is stated it is too salty to support robust aquatic life and too contaminated for humans to be around. Use the analogy of a swimming pool that is half full of bad water. A garden hose is run into the pool to start a refill. How much water will be needed to fill the pool and change the water to a quality you want? Simple answer is you can’t do it, unless you pump out the existing bad water and replace it with better water.

So, to improve the water quality and refill the Salton Sea, you will need two large sets of canals or pipelines: one to pump the too salty and contaminated lake water out and one to bring new sea water in. And you will need to continue doing this from now on.

All this imported sea water and exported unwanted Salton Sea water will be coming from and going to the ecologically sensitive Sea of Cortez. How many international environmental groups do you think are going to say that is a good idea?

It has been estimated that just a single pipeline to bring sea water to the Salton Sea would cost upwards of $10 billion, take international treaties and take decades to complete. If you had $10 billion to spare, how would you spend it? Would you spend it on better healthcare, social services, improved job opportunities and education for the people in California and that region, or would you spend it to refill a Lake by Mistake, so you can float a boat? This is not a trick question.


Proactive plan

I have been working on a plan to create two smaller manageable lakes which would entail the Riverside County side to be fed by the Whitewater and Imperial County side to be fed by the New and Alamo Rivers. 
A desalination facility powered using geothermal energy could be built/funded to mitigate the high salinity.
100 years of the Colorado river spilling water into Lake Cahuilla creating the Salton Sea, created a water table that could be pumped and added to the Sea to dilute its high levels of salt.
The EPA has a long used expression “the solution to pollution is dilution”

How to save the Salton Sea: Proposal to import seawater across California desert is biggest since Hoover Dam


Time is running out to come up with a plan to save the Salton Sea. Water levels in California’s largest lake continue to drop, subjecting nearby communities to harmful levels of toxic dust stirred up from the dry, exposed lakebed.

For more than a century, the shallow lake has been a beneficiary of the Colorado River water that feeds the nearby Imperial Valley farm fields. As water was sold off and diverted, more than 15,000 acres of lakebed containing years of fertilizer and pesticide runoff were exposed to the air and desert winds.

The dwindling water supply increases the lake’s salinity, killing off fish, destroying once-lush migratory bird habitats and making children sick from the airborne toxins stirred up in the dust.

The California Natural Resources Agency was tasked with coming up with a long-term fix by the end of 2022, and 11 plans on the table focus mainly on one big idea: pulling in water across the U.S.-Mexican border from the Sea of Cortez north to the Salton Sea. Some proposals are more ambitious than others, envisioning tourism and shipping industries popping up along the desert canal.

Though full costs are unknown, fixing the Salton Sea arguably would be the biggest North American water project since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

What’s happening to the lake?

The modern Salton Sea – which has filled several times before – formed in 1905, when floodwaters from the Colorado River to the east breached an irrigation canal and dumped into a low-lying area called the Salton Sink, a depression in the desert that formed the lower basin of the ancient prehistoric Lake Cahuilla.

In the hundred years since the lake formed, it’s been sustained by agricultural runoff and became a rare stopover point for migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway.

As the Colorado River water has been transferred from the farms neighboring the lake to growing urban areas, the Salton Sea’s footprint has shrunk.



Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 4 – Salton Sea Plea

Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 4 – Salton Sea Plea

Across the vast expanse of the Salton Sea, white gold can be found deep below the waters. The Salton Sea has been called “Lithium Valley” for good reason.

“One of the single best locations, one of the largest geothermal reservoirs in the world is right at the Salton Sea,” Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President of Government Relations for Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

The Salton Sea runs along what’s called “The Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe of high volcanic activity where the most geothermal movement can be found.


Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 3 – A Lake Languished

Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 3 – A Lake Languished

Along the dusty shoreline of the Salton Sea, you could blink and you’d miss it: the Ski Inn, the only bar around the east side of the lake for 40 miles.

This neighborhood bar and restaurant in Bombay Beach is a local watering hole that’s been here for decades, an obscure Anthony Bourdain stop, wallpapered with dollar bills from visitors through the years. It’s certainly a bar that’s seen better days.

“There was five bars in this town. And they were all packed every weekend. And slowly, they all went away,” said Sonia Herbert, the owner of the Ski Inn.

Gone away with the shrinking waters of the Salton Sea, Herbert said, as she has watched life at the lake wither away for the past 45 years.

“It’s a crying shame that they’re letting this whole beautiful area die,” Herbert said.


Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 2 – ‘Toxic Exposure’

Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project Part 2 – ‘Toxic Exposure’

It’s a strange phenomenon when the average Californian can tell you more about the breathtaking beauty of Lake Tahoe or the dizzyingly good times at Lake Havasu than that state’s largest lake. And in cases where they have heard of it, you would likely get complaints about the smell or the dead fish.

The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, starts at the southern end of the Coachella Valley, and it’s unlike any lake you’ve seen before. This body of water in the Colorado Desert stretches 35 miles long, boasting mesmerizing views, and it’s surface area is nearly big enough to swallow up the entire Coachella Valley. While the sights make for beautiful photos, authorities caution visitors against touching the water.


Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project, Part 1 – Paradise Lost

Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project, Part 1 – Paradise Lost

Just a short drive south of Palm Springs, you’ll find California’s largest lake. The drive along the circumference of the Salton Sea reveals surprising, majestic views unlike anything you’d expect to find in the desert. But for its impressive sights and size, the Salton Sea is not a household name, least of all in the very state it’s found. These days, if you travel along the increasingly shrinking shorelines, you’ll see suffering communities dotted with abandoned homes and lined with silent streets.