Go to map one for map of northern portion of Salton Sea area

Go to map two for map of southern portion of Salton Sea area


Much has been reported in various news media in recent months on the condition of the Salton Sea, especially in relation to the plight of the birds and the fish that inhabit that body of water.

An effort has gotten underway to "SAVE THE SALTON SEA." Congress has recently allocated 5 million dollars to study what is causing the problems with the Salton Sea and to determine if any measures can be taken to mitigate its deterioration. If this effort goes forward it will cost taxpayers a staggering amount of money. Because of projected high costs involved in saving the Salton Sea, I have undertaken an unfunded study designed to determine if the Salton Sea can be or should be saved for other than an agricultural waste water disposal site. I presented the preliminary results of this study as an invited paper at the symposium: "New River and Salton Sea" in February, 1999, sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program of Imperial Valley College, California. In addition, I presented a revised version of these data as an invited paper to the symposium: "Water in the Desert, Past, Present, and Future" at the Spring, 1999, meeting of the Southern California Academy of Sciences at California State University, Dominguez Hills, California. The abstract of this paper, which follows below, was published in, "Program and Abstracts," page 34, prepared for the annual meeting of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, April 30-May 1, 1999, California State University, Dominguez Hills, California. The abstract of


"Over 1 million acre-feet per year of runoff water from the Imperial Valley and Coachella Valley agricultural fields annually enter the Salton Sea with no appreciable change in the Sea's level. This indicates that over 1 million acre-feet of water are annually being evaporated from the Sea. The agricultural runoff water with a salinity of 3.34 PPT(parts per thousand) is today carrying 4.5 million tons of salt into the Sea annually. This process has changed the Sea from a body of water with an initial total dissolved solids(TDS) count of 0.8 PPT in 1905 to one today of 44 PPT. Assuming steady state and projecting ahead 10 years, it is expected that 45 million additional tons of salt will have been added to the Sea, bringing its TDS to 50.4 PPT by the year 2009. If, however, the Imperial Valley and Coachella Valley Water Districts go ahead with their plan to sell 300,000 acre-feet per year of their unused Colorado River water allotment to San Diego, there will be a 30 % reduction in runoff water and salt input to the Sea. By the year 2009 such a reduction will have caused a volume shrinkage of the Sea from 169 billion cubic feet to 38 billion cubic feet (78 percent reduction) and produced an increase in TDS to 221 PPT. Besides the increased salinity, the reduction in volume will drastically reduce the water depth of an already shallow water body and significantly shift the shoreline toward the center of the Salton Sink. The shallowing will produce a rise in temperature of the Sea and this will facilitate the dissolving of a greater mass of salt and, at the same time, produce an accelerated rate of evaporation. The projected hypersalinization of the Salton Sea presents a daunting challenge to those who hope to "save" the Salton Sea in its present extent and form as a fishery and bird habitat."

From the data in this abstract it should be clear that there are natural forces - climatic, hydrologic, and geologic- as well as man-made forces operating in the Salton Trough which are so intense and of such great magnitude that any man-made effort to overcome them will require unimaginably huge expenditures of public funds for engineering and environmental procedures in order to overcome their adverse effect on the Salton Sea. The projected increase in the salinity of the Sea in the next decade means the fish-eating birds will be gone because no fish will be able to tolerate such high salinities. These birds will go elsewhere to natural environments more suitable to their needs.

Earlier studies, funded by public monies, have been carried out on the Salton Sea in an effort to see if a retardation of its progressive deterioration could be devised. Apparently these studies could not identify any engineering and/or environmental procedures that would be cost-effective in mitigating the natural and man-made processes that are causing the Sea to deteriorate.

Any public funds that can be generated for the purpose of salvaging wetlands habitat should be applied to localities elsewhere in Southern California where wetland mitigation will yield more cost-effective and environmentally beneficial results than can be achieved at the Salton Sea. For instance, there are 14 estuaries on the San Diego County coast alone, all of which need serious mitigation work to improve and protect their waters, habitat, etc. Batiquitos Lagoon, one of the San Diego County estuaries, already has absorbed over 50 million dollars in mitigation money obtained from the recent dredging of Los Angeles Harbor. Even this large amount of money has not provided for all the work needed to properly restore and preserve the habitat of this lagoon.

Even if a staggering amount of public funds are spent in an attempt to restore the Salton Sea to a more environmental acceptable level, it is my contention that the data shows it problematic that the deterioration of the Salton Sea can be reversed. I do not believe the general public, which will have to fund any effort to save the Salton Sea, has been made sufficiently aware of the dubious nature of such an enterprise.

I plan to continue to expand this web site in the future with more information to explain how nature's forces and man's operations have sealed the fate of the Salton Sea and to also present viable alternatives to saving the Salton Sea.

I am available to give illustrated talks on the future of the Salton Sea to any public interest group that may desire to hear me expand on, " The Salton Sea: A Geologist's Perspective On Its Future. "

You may contact Dr. Colburn by mail care of Department of Geological Sciences, California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA., 90032; by phone: 323-343-2413; by FAX 323-343-2435; or by e-mail: icolbur@calstatela.edu.