Satellite-image-of-Sea-with-surrounding-developments-310x175Satellite image of Sea with surrounding developments

The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, 35 miles long, 15 miles wide, and 30 feet deep. While the region has a long history intertwined with the movements of the mighty Colorado River, its current configuration was created by a levee break in 1905. Today its surface is 228 feet below sea level, and its water is highly saline, 53,000 milligrams per liter. (Tilapia can live in water up to 60,000 mg NACL/liter).

Most Salton Sea inflow is from agricultural drainage. It is also fed by the Whitewater, New, and Alamo Rivers. It has no outflow; its water evaporates. We learn that it is another critical element in California’s energy/water equation. While the Bay Delta gets the lion’s share of policy focus, the Salton Sea, is also in peril and threatening the health and wellbeing of the entire valley.

The Salton Sea’s great challenge will be its loss of Colorado River water. The current allocation has been maintaining lake levels. But the “mitigation water,” as prescribed in the Quantification Settlement Agreement, terminates in 2017. This would cause water levels to drop 20 – 30 feet, and salinity to rise to over 250,000 milligrams per liter. A preferred plan calls for shrinking the size of the sea, creating a brine sink, with planned barriers and berms. Renewable energy development on the exposed “playa” may be the key to financially supporting the restoration.

We stop at the Coachella Valley Canal, a spur of the All American Canal, and the lifeblood for agriculture in the Coachella Valley. We hear from Peter Nelsen, a farmer whose straight talk is refreshing. He’s grown it all, from lemons to stone fruits and grapes. He explains micro-irrigation and underground drainage, both essential to his business and livelihood.

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