The Salton Sea


Matthew McDonald, Writer

It seems that California can’t get a break when it comes to environmental disasters. With the deadliest forest fire in the state’s history going on now, and a long history of disastrous earthquakes, such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1905 which literally tore open entire streets, California has had its fair share of terrible ecosystem tragedies. But by far one of the worst, and also least talked about, is the accidentally created man-made lake that occupies a large valley in the Sonoran desert of the Southern half of the state, the Salton Sea.

In the early 1900s, farmers in Southern California were attempting a hazardous operation. They were trying to divert the waters of the Colorado River. Poorly built dams collapsed, allowing the river water to occupy the Salton Basin in Southern California between 1905 and 1907. The Salton Sea would have continued to expand, but the South Pacific Railroad ordered the dumping of boulders in the area where the accidental lake would have expanded. The new lake was a whopping 40 miles long and an equally impressive 13 miles wide with an average depth of around 30 ft. and a deepest point of 51 feet. Soon after, the local population took advantage of their new waterfront property and a new desert paradise was born.

During the 1950’s and 60’s, the Salton Sea area quickly became a resort area. Celebrities that visited the lake area included singers and movie stars like Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lee Lewis. Even President Eisenhower once visited the area. However, soon enough, major problems began to emerge. Suddenly, as quickly as it appeared, the Salton Sea began to shrink. The increasing salinity (the amount of salt in the water) and agricultural runoff began to drive away the tourist population of the Salton Sea. Soon, the fancy resorts, marinas, yacht clubs, and the golf course all closed. In the late 70’s, hurricanes helped to further damage the Salton Sea area. By the 1980’s the tourist crowds had disappeared and there was almost nothing left of the Salton Sea resort area, save for a few sparsely populated towns and the Salton Sea itself.

Today there are very few people living in the Salton Sea area, with some people having to travel up to 40 miles to stock up on groceries. There is also a darker threat lurking within this man-made lake, a possible environmental disaster. The salinity levels and the number of chemicals in the water from agricultural runoff have spiked exponentially as a result of a lot of the water in the lake evaporating. Today, the salt levels in the water are about 1.5 times the amount of salt in the ocean. This has led to massive fish die-offs. Fish were originally introduced to the lake in order to bring sports fishers and fishing crowds to the area. However, now, it is possible that the lake will become unlivable for fish in as little as seven years due to increasing water salinity. This may kill off other animals in the region which depend on the fish and the ecosystem of what remains around the lake for food.

Surprisingly, there is very little being done about the Salton Sea in its current state. The California state government even issued a promotional video for tourists just last year! Overall, the Salton Sea is representative of a host of things. Chief among these is that there is very little being done about our world’s environmental troubles, such as climate change. The rising temperatures in the Sonoran desert and Southern California alone had helped to cause the lowering of the the Salton Sea’s water line. A very unfortunate situation could develop in our country and our world if we continue to ignore the Salton Sea and climate change’s other dire warnings.

    However, even you can help to combat climate change disasters like the Salton Sea in the world today. Charity groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy helps to combat climate change in any way they can with the money they are provided. Although it is hard to work out climate change problems without the support of the government, which famously denies the existence of climate change, doing the best that you can help to make a difference. Summarily, we must all work as hard as possible to make climate change a thing of the past, as well as the man-made disasters that can be represented by the Salton Sea. “The Salton Sea.” Concretions – DesertUSA,


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Zarrelli, Natalie. “The Once Glamorous Salton Sea Is Now Rife With Toxic Dust and Dying Fish.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 29 Sept. 2016,