Drought, drawdowns and death of the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake at 370 square miles, once supported resorts that drew celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. It is now in danger of shrinking by half. Mandated water transfers to metropolitan areas along the coast and other factors will expose large swaths of lake bed and drastically increase salt levels in the lake — changes that will kill fish, interrupt bird migration, cause dust clouds and affect local tourism.

Mandated transfers

The Salton Sea in 2033

If nothing is done, the mandated water transfers and other factors reducing water inflow will result in a total loss of more than 500,000 acre-feet.

Highest water level (early 2000s)
2014 level
0-5 ft. water depth
5-10 ft.
+10 ft.

1. Northern edge
Could recede nearly 4 miles.

2. Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Could recede by a mile along the park, once a popular fishing destination. High salinity would kill off the fish population.

3. Western shore
Could recede about 4 miles and residents of Salton City and other populated areas could live next to the biggest dust bowl in the Western Hemisphere.

4. Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge
Currently provides habitat for more than 400 bird species including many that are endangered and will be mostly dry. Migrating and fish-eating birds will have to find other sources of food.

5. Southern shore
Could recede by more than 6 miles.

Birth of the sea

On the site of an ancient seabed, the Salton Sea formed in 1905 when, after an unusually wet winter, the Colorado River breached a canal constructed to replace water from a blocked intake.

Sources: Tim Krantz, professor of environmental studies, Salton Sea Database program director, University of Redlands; Lisa Benvenuti, GIS analyst, University of Redlands; California State Parks.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times