The Salton Sea, a huge salt water lake in southern California has been fed in modern times primarily by polluted agricultural run off. This causes fish kills. The Sea is also a major migratory stop for birds. Decreased water usage by surrounding farms means less water flows into the Salton Sea. This could lead to an environmental catastrophe as it dries up, nasty toxins are released, and dust storms carry them for miles.
If more water is released into the Salton Sea, then less Colorado River water is available for California, which puts more pressure on the Sacramento Delta, which doesn’t need more stress, thanks for asking.
There are no easy, painless answers here. The State of California or maybe the feds will have to intervene and it will be expensive. There really is no other option.
The problems of the Salton Sea, an inland water body fed by agricultural drainage from the Imperial Valley, are an integral part of the Colorado River story. As we pursue efficiency, agricultural drainage shrinks. And so, therefore, does the Sea.
The most significant problem caused by a dwindling Salton Sea may be a public health issue. As the Sea shrinks, exposed shoreline flats are dust storms waiting to happen, creating filthy air and a public health risk. Importantly, the most vulnerable population here is poor.
The current scheme for reducing water use in Imperial includes a trigger point that would lead to significant reduction in ag runoff and a shrinking sea beginning Dec. 31, 2017. That’s not far away. The water use piece is crucial to balancing California’s water books. Without those Imperial reductions, less Colorado River water would be available to municipal Southern California. A loss of water supply reliability there would increase pressure on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the other source of Southern California’s water.
So this is a statewide problem, but the poor folk of Imperial are being asked to bear a disproportionate burden in its solution.