Salton Sea headed for the dead pool. Literally


Despite numerous plans to save the Salton Sea, lack of money and water may doom this large saline lake in the southern California desert. The Salton Sea rests directly on the San Andreas Fault in a baking desert, is about 15 miles by 35 miles, and reeks in the summer from dead fish. Toxic agricultural runoff is deliberately dumped into the Salton Sea by farmers.

In the eyes of local farmers, the sea is first and foremost a waste dump. It is as vital to their fortunes as good markets and sunshine because its expansive shores swallow tainted water that if left on the fields would eventually saturate the soil with crop-killing minerals.

“The purpose of the sea is to receive agricultural drainage. That’s what it’s there for,” said John Benson, a second-generation farmer who grows lettuce, cotton and cauliflower on 4,000 acres near Brawley.

It is also a major migratory stop for hundreds of species of birds and it it dries up toxic dust will pollute the air for miles around.

Plans to save it make an instructive microcosm of how just how convoluted water negotiations can be.

Current agreement: Farmers are paid to fallow land. Their unused supply is then sent to the San Diego region and to help refill the sea.

Water authority proposal: Money to pay farmers to idle land would be spent on environmental improvement programs at the sea. A lesser amount of water would flow to the sea.

At this point no one knows which plan will be adopted or if it can save the Salton Sea. The problem is, there just isn’t enough money to restore it or available clean water to fill it.


  1. It’s ironic that the Sea owes its existence to the state’s water problems: it was created when an aqueduct, moving precious water across the state, broke. Now its end will be decided by the same resource shortage that created it.

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