As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected
When the Salton Sea, a coastal basin in Texas, comes into focus every June, it is a time when the state of California plays host to the world’s largest annual gathering of scientists and environmentalists. This is not a scientific gathering, though. There are a couple of thousand Californians from around the country who come here to discuss climate change and the ecological consequences of global warming. But it is not a climate science conference.
Salton Sea on the edge of California
And it is not a good science conference, either. The issue at hand is whether the Salton Sea will survive without the help of Californian power generators. At issue is the fate of the only known “karst” landscape on the planet.
The problem goes back decades, to the 1960s, when a developer drilled a well on a piece of land in the desert, adjacent to the site of the Salton Sea. After 18 months, water began streaming out of the well at the rate of a half-million liters per week. The developer then took the water and used it to irrigate his fields.
“He built a pipeline to the field. He built a dam to hold it in. He put in a cooling system that uses the water to cool the fields,” said George Hirsch, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, “But then he stopped pumping the water.”
The problem got worse when a third well was drilled, on another piece of land adjacent to the first well. This well began to pump large quantities of Salton Sea water out. When the third well was finally capped, it took over five months, and then a second, for the well to stop and the water to flow back down.
The Salton Sea is an oasis on the edge of California.
When it first began to flow in, Hirsch said, “I was called down to the beach to monitor it.”
It would take almost a year to return to pre-salt level, and another three years to reach the original volume.
Eventually, the Salton Sea became an ecological disaster. Water that was once flowing at nearly one-tenth of a gallon a day began to dwindle to almost half a gallon, Hirsch said.