Salton Sea Information Page
California's Salton Sea is a fertile oasis in the hostile
desert of south-eastern California. It has been adopted
by millions of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway
and also attracts human anglers and boaters. Rehabilitating
the Salton Sea presents a huge challenge to the local, state,
and federal officials that share responsibility for its
health, as well as the health of those in surrounding communities.
The Sea defies easy description, challenging preconceptions
about conservation priorities. In the 1920s, the President
designated the Sea as an agricultural sump, a terminus for
the run-off and drainage from the hundreds of thousands
of irrigated acres in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.
Without this agricultural drainage, the Sea would evaporate
under the hot desert sun.
Yet this drainage water, rich in the fertilizers applied
to fields, has created a tremendously productive ecosystem
at the Sea. Fish and invertebrates swim through its turbid
waters and dig through its rich sediments, feeding enormous
numbers of pelicans, cormorants, skimmers, herons, egrets,
rails, and other birds. In all, more than 400 species of
birds - the second highest bird count in the country - have
been spotted at the Sea and its environs.
The scale of the Sea adds to its complexity, and the difficulty
of finding a viable solution. The Salton Sea has the largest
surface area of any lake in California, yet is barely 50
feet at its deepest point. More than 1.3 million acre-feet
of water flow into the Sea each year, roughly the amount
that evaporates from its broad surface. More than four million
tons of dissolved salt, and tens of thousands of tons of
fertilizers, flow into the Sea annually. Salinity at the
Sea now exceeds 44,000 mg/L - 25 percent saltier than the
The contrast of hydrologic inefficiency (from the state
and federal perspective) against the ecological benefits
generated by this inflow (from the birds' perspective) is
the crux of the problem. The Imperial Valley-San Diego water
transfer will, eventually, lead to improved irrigation efficiency
in the valley, at the cost of decreased inflows to the Sea.
This decrease could expose tens of thousands of acres of
lakebed, potentially leading to dust storms that could rival
those at Owens Lake (site of an on-going $250 million dust
Protecting the ecological value of the Salton Sea in the
face of these changing conditions will require a rehabilitation
plan that recognizes the infeasibility of preserving the
Sea at its current state, and instead focuses on creating
a flow-through system to address salinity concerns, in conjunction
with nutrient and selenium management plans. The Pacific
Institute submitted such a 'partial' plan to the Salton
Sea Authority in October, 2001. Subsequent alternatives
modify this theme, preserving the general concept of a smaller
Sea and an outlet.
The current challenge is to ensure that any rehabilitation
plan for the Salton Sea ecosystem is ecologically and financially
feasible, rehabilitates and preserves avian habitat in and
around the Sea, and that it also protects human health in
the Imperial and Coachella valleys by limiting the exposure
of lake sediments to wind. The broader challenge is to maintain
pressure on the state and federal agencies responsible for
the health of the Salton Sea and of the people and birds
that live in the region, to ensure that these agencies fulfill
their obligations, and do not divert existing and likely
future funding to other projects outside the area.
The Pacific Institute will continue to meet these challenges,
both from its position on the State of California's Salton
Sea Advisory Committee, and from its work with the independent
Salton Sea Coalition.
[9/27/10] Govenor signs Salton Sea Legislation
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill by Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny to create a new council to oversee the restoration of Salton Sea.
The bill to create the Salton Sea Restoration Council passed the Assembly, 51-25, on Aug. 31, the last day of the legislative session. It then passed the Senate, 26-4.
The Pacific Institute, in conjunction with other organizations representing environmental, hunting, and fishing interests, sent the Govenor a letter urging him to sign SB 51 which would establish the Salton Sea Restoration Council as an agency in the Natural Resources Agency to oversee the restoration of the Salton Sea. Read the letter here.
[4/20/04] California's Salton Sea Advisory
Committee Appoints Institute's Cohen
To help direct California's effort to develop a restoration
plan for the Salton Sea ecosystem, the state appointed the
Pacific Institute's Michael Cohen to a seat on its Advisory
Committee. More information on the Advisory Committee is
The Institute, together with the Salton Sea Coalition, recently
on the State's proposed scope of work.
[4/03] Pacific Institute Analysis of the IID-San Diego
Water Transfer DEIR/DEIS
Download the Pacific Institute's April 2003 comments on
the DEIR/DEIS as a PDF
or as a Word
[3/02] Pacific Institute Analysis of the IA/IOP DEIR/DEIS
Download our March 2002 comments on the Department of the
Interior's Implementation Agreement, Inadvertent Overrun
and Payback Policy, and Related Federal Actions draft Environmental
Impact Statement as a PDF.
Pacific Institute Analysis of the Salton
Sea Environmental Impact Statement of January 2000
Press Release: Institute Questions
Salton Sea EIS/EIR.
the DEIS/EIR (PDF)
Comments on DEIS/EIR (PDF)
Report: "Haven or Hazard: The Ecology
and Future of the Salton Sea"
Haven or Hazard is now available in full as a download
(6 MB PDF). More information on the Haven
or Hazard page.