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Salton Sea
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The Salton Sea is an inland saline lake located in the Sonoran Desert, in southeastern California. It was formed in 1905 when a levee on the Colorado River failed allowing water to flow into the Salton Trough for 18 months. Salton Sea is approximately 60 km long and 20 km wide and has the largest surface area of all the inland water bodies in California. The Sea has a maximum depth of 16 m and an average depth of 9 m.

salton sea site

Salton Sea is a key stop on the Pacific flyway for many species of migratory birds. Its importance to bird migration has increased with the tremendous loss of wetlands in California during the 20th century. At present, the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most diverse wildlife refuges in the U.S. and provides important habitat for several endangered species including the Yuma clapper rail and brown pelican (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2004).

The water flowing into the Sea is primarily agricultural, municipal and industrial discharge from the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, and the city of Mexicali (Setmire et al., 2000), which includes approximately 4,000,000 tons of dissolved salts every year.  Since the only outflow for the Sea’s water is evaporation, salt concentration has steadily increased over time. Today the salinity of the Salton Sea is approximately 45 g/l, thirty percent greater than that of the ocean, posing a major threat to the sustainability of its delicate ecosystem (Cook et al., 2002).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Salton Sea was a major recreational destination, offering attractive opportunities for boating, fishing and bird watching.  During the early 1970’s the rising water level inundated some of the new tourist developments; the rising salinity levels started to threaten the fishery and the continuous loading of agricultural and municipal discharges led to eutrophication and odor problems. As a consequence the recreational demand declined through the 1980’s. The 1990’s brought major algal blooms, bird and fish die-offs in the millions and raised serious questions about the sustainability of the ecosystem.

In the last decade important cooperative efforts at the local, state and federal level have been made to address the environmental problems threatening the ecosystem and to enhance the Sea’s recreational and economic opportunities, while continuing its use as a repository for irrigation drainage.