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.
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.
The water transfer between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego Water Authority has escalated to more than 200 thousand acre feet this year… doubling the original 100 thousand per year provided since the 2003 Quantification Settlement agreement (QSA) was signed.
The Salton Sea is the largest inland body of water in California. As its water recedes exposes more and more shoreline of toxic elements that will impact populations as the wind blows. Video
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.
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.
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.
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.