Losing the Salton Sea

Perhaps because I’ve been in a blue funk all day because it seems that the GOP will actually nominate Trump, I was especially irritated by something Councilman Ed Gallo said at tonight’s City Council meeting. It was at the end, under the city Council Sub-Committee reports, when he was reporting on the San Diego County Water Authority. He brought up the Salton Sea, observing that before it was a sea, it was desert, and where did the birds go before there was a Salton Sea. I confess I muttered from the audience “the delta”. I tried to enlighten him on the business after the meeting, but suspect I was talking to a brick wall. I tried to explain to him that the Salton Sea was a poor substitute for what once had been a rich Colorado River delta. I tried to explain that if the Salton Sea dried up it would expose a substrate of soil that housed unknowable toxic substances, the result of run off from farms, and more critically, runoff from Mexicali industry. If the dust from that contaminated soil becomes abundant due to the drying up of the Salton Sea, the health consequences to the population of Southern California will be dire. Pretty sure I didn’t make an impression.

I wrote about this to the San Diego Union Tribune in February of 2007, and they were good enough to publish my thoughts. I reproduce them here.

My childhood memory of the Colorado River is of a vast expanse of brown water. Traveling to Yuma, from my home on a farm near Holtville, it seemed an amazing quantity of water only outdone by the Salton Sea and Pacific Ocean. At that time (the 1950s) the Colorado River Delta was an amazingly rich wetland, nursery to countless marine species, and the economic base of the Gulf of California’s fishing industry. Now the Colorado near Yuma wouldn’t qualify as a creek in England, and the delta has shrunk to a mere shadow of its former self.

In the 1950s the Salton Sea was growing. The canals and drainage ditches on my family’s farm were an endless source of science projects, providing streams of wetland habitats leading to the Salton Sea. Then Southern California’s growing population and insatiable demand for water pressured farmers (at considerable expense) into tiling their fields, lining the canals and doing away with the drainage ditches. The Salton Sea, which had mitigated the loss of Colorado River Delta Wetlands as well as the loss of wetlands in California’s central valleys, began to shrink, becoming saltier and more polluted every year. The Colarado River was dammed (no pun intended) again and again, devastating the Colorado Delta.

Now, one of the few remaining water sources for the diminishing Colorado Delta, seepage from All-American Canal, should be sealed with concrete and the Salton Sea allowed to dry up, according to the editorial writers of the North County Times ( “What a waste of water,”” Editorial, Feb. 8). Ninety percent of the wetland habitat in California has been lost, but saving remaining habitat like the Salton Sea and the Colorado River Delta is a “waste of water” according to these folks. “Animals, ecosystems, and Mexican farmers” evidently aren’t as important as encouraging more people to come to San Diego County by stealing water from these same “animals, ecosystems, and Mexican farmers.”

Imperial Valley is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. Between 1982 and 1997 rural area the size of Maine and New Hampshire combined was lost to urban sprawl in the United States. Is Imperial Valley to become a polluting dust bowl to feed the appetite of the growth industry?

The problem of Southern California is the problem of the world —- too many people. Responsible, intelligent local government would be doing everything in its power to stabilize our population rather than encouraging more and more people, degrading our quality of life daily. What kind of society have we become when we think that protecting wildlife habitat is a waste of water? That monument to man’s endless pursuit of mindless entertainment and boon to organized crime, Las Vegas, that’s an obscene waste of Colorado River water.



3 thoughts on “Losing the Salton Sea

  1. Mickey Sanders

    Trying to educate the folks who choose to be ignorant seems like a waste of time. We must continue to work to break through the wall of ignorance.


  2. Jerry Harmon

    As always, well said Margaret. And yes it is shameful for the growth machine to put profit above the health, safety, and welfare of people living in Southern California right now!!!

    Liked by 1 person


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