Journal article Open Access

Born from a flood: The Salton Sea and its story of survival

Tompson, Andrew F. B.

The Salton Sea is a terminal lake located in the deepest point of the topographically closed Salton Trough in southeastern California. It is currently the largest lake in area in the state. It was created by a flooding event along the Colorado River in 1905–1907, similar to the way historical floods over past centuries created ephemeral incarnations of ancient Lake Cahuilla in the same location. Its position at the center of today's Imperial Valley, a hot and arid locale home to some of the most productive irrigated agricultural lands in the United States, has ensured its ongoing survival through a delicate balance between agricultural runoff, its principal form of input, and vast evaporation losses. Nevertheless, its parallel role as a recreational resource and important wildlife habitat, established over its first century of existence, is threatened by increasing salinity decreasing water quality, and reduced water allocations from the Colorado River that feeds the valley's agriculture. The Salton Sea faces an increasingly uncertain future that will be influenced by reduced water imports from the Colorado River, demands for additional water sources to support farming and energy industries in the valley, and needs to stabilize the lake salinity, maintain recreational resources, and preserve what have become important ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

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