As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected, with its critics calling it a disaster waiting to happen
The world’s largest saltwater desert, California’s Salton Sea, is one of California’s most valuable natural resources and the most iconic ecosystem on the planet. At nearly 1,300 square kilometers, it’s the size of New Jersey, occupies more than half of the vast San Andreas fault, and is home to more than 90 species of marine life, including migratory birds. According to the state government of California, the Salton Sea is the largest inland saltwater lagoon on Earth.
Over the past 20 years, with the Salton Sea facing near-death in a slow-motion ecological collapse, federal and state officials have tried to use a slew of creative solutions to keep things from going to disaster. In 2016, an international commission of scientists, including the US National Academy of Sciences, called for increased protection of the Salton Sea. It also called for a complete ban on large-scale development in the area.
The sea is now facing more than $25bn in taxpayer-funded upgrades to fix the most serious problem with its water. The Salton Sea Commission has yet to approve any of these infrastructure upgrades, which could cost up to $17bn. In July 2017, the commission issued a draft update to its report, called “The Case for the Salton Sea: Finding Solutions for a Lost Resource”, but it is not certain if the commission will actually vote to adopt the proposal at its next open meeting.
Meanwhile, the ocean around the Salton Sea has begun to change. In a study published in the journal BioScience, a team of scientists led by the University of California, San Diego, found that the sea’s salt content is going down, and the waters are becoming more corrosive, changing the ecosystem’s ability to hold on to its water and make nutrients a valuable resource.
In January, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the US Bureau of Reclamation jointly issued a draft report