18 Years of Progress



1. Why restore a manmade lake?

The Salton Sea is NOT a man-made lake. It is historically a part of the Colorado River Delta. The Salton Sea and its immediate vicinity provide a place of rest, replenishment, and breeding for millions of migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway.  If the Sea is lost, southern California will lose its most important inland wetland habitat.


Restoring the Sea would preserve land and water that is home to numerous seaside residents, and a place of scenic beauty and bountiful source of recreation for residents and visitors alike.


2. Why are so many studies and pilot projects needed? Hasn’t the Sea been studied enough?

Numerous in-depth and extensive studies are needed to understand the complex issues affecting the Sea. Previous studies have been sporadic, narrow in scope, and not connected to a plan of action.


Because of the large scale of the Sea, pilot or demonstration projects test potential actions for effectiveness before large investments are made.


Restoration of the Sea requires careful and directed study to guide the decision-making process and, in particular, to ensure effective management of financial resources. Restoration will be based on adaptive management, where management decisions can be changed or adapted as new information and findings become available.


3. What is being done to restore the Sea?

The Salton Sea Authority has initiated a number of measures to control immediate problems and improve conditions at the Sea.  Recovery and rehabilitation of sick birds, primarily pelicans, has been underway for several years with almost two-thirds of the birds saved and released. US Fish and Wildlife Service studies of bird disease are ongoing even as the number of sick birds being recovered declines. The Salton Sea Authority has contracted with the Salton Services District to clean up dead fish along the shoreline on the northwest side of the Sea and with Environmental Recovery Solutions (ERS) for on-water fish recovery.


Contracts for mid-term solutions include one with Kent Sea-Tech to test the use of algae beds in fish ponds along the Whitewater River to reduce nutrients entering the Sea, and a second with CalEnergy to test the use of waste geothermal energy to desalinate some of the flows on the south end of the Sea. Tests will also be done to see whether the use of alum in the tributaries to the Sea can reduce phosphorus levels ö a major ingredient of eutrophication in the Sea. The composition of fish meal from the Sea has been analyzed and found to be viable for commercial uses.


Long-term options for reducing salinity are currently being tested at two sites and include solar evaporation ponds and Enhanced Evaporation Systems. Additional analysis is being done for pipeline options, partial sea solutions (maintaining only part of the Sea for fish and birds), and future use of groundwater.


An analysis of future flows into the Sea, especially reductions resulting from water transfers, is being conducted to determine the most effective means for stabilizing Sea levels.  Additional air quality data is an essential part of considering reduced inflow levels.


The findings from these analyses will guide decisions about full-scale restoration efforts.   Authorization and allocation of funds will be needed to accomplish restoration of the Sea.


4. How will the water transfer from the Imperial Valley to San Diego affect the Sea?

The water transfer will reduce inflows into the Sea beginning as soon 2004. Over 15 years inflows will be reduced by hundreds of thousands of acre feet. If no action is taken, shoreline reduction could expose many square miles of hazardous sediment. Fortunately supporters of restoration fought long and hard to require that any transfer take into account the negative impacts to the Salton Sea. The water transfer deal struck in October 2003 included an estimated $300 million for Salton Sea restoration. In addition, the State of California has assumed responsibility for mitigating negative impacts from the water transfer on the Sea.


5. What is the future for the Sea?

The future of the Sea lies with the restoration process, which may take thirty to forty years.  Once restored, people can expect to see a Sea with a stable shoreline, rich wildlife and a growing number of visitors drawn to the Sea's recreational opportunities. Property values along the shoreline will stabilize and undoubtedly increase.


The Sea will remain a place of extreme condition, hot and arid.  The Sea will continue to have a marine odor, and occasional fish die-offs will occur. The Sea will be managed as part of a larger ecosystem, which includes the Colorado River Delta, nearby deserts and mountains, agriculture and population growth.


One of the largest unknowns is how the Sea will be affected by nearby population growth - whether it will remain an isolated inland habitat or will it become a place surrounded by urban development and commercialization of its use.


If the Sea is not restored, salinity and nutrient levels will increase, shoreline elevations will drop, fish will die, odors will likely increase, residents and visitors to the Sea will decline, air quality problems may develop, and populations of fish-eating birds such as pelicans and many other birds will be severely impacted.


6. What can I do?

Participate. Participate in decision-making opportunities - meetings to gather opinions, hearings, and contacts with legislators and local leaders.  Visit the Sea to learn firsthand about the challenges it faces. Let your views be known through use of the Salton Sea web page, surveys, and other means.


Participate in efforts to contact members of the Congress and the Legislature to let them know you feel funding for the restoration is important.


U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein



U. S. Senator Barbara Boxer



U. S. Congresswoman Mary Bono



U. S. Congressman Bob Filner



U. S. Congressman Duncan Hunter



U. S. Congressman Ken Calvert



U. S. Congressman Jerry Lewis



California Senator Denise Ducheny



California Senator Jim Battin



California Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia



California Assemblyman John Benoit



7. Pipelines

Pipelines to the Gulf of Mexico, to the Pacific Ocean and to an abandoned test site were considered as a means of reducing salinity. The object was to pump salty Salton Sea water out to the sea, and pump seawater in, which is 25% less saline.


This option was not recommended, because the costs were prohibitive, the wait for securing permits would be too long (if they were granted at all) and the whole process was considered ineffective. Because the seawater is also saline, it would simply add to the amount of salt that would need to be removed through either evaporation or some form of desalinization.


8. Desalinization

Any desalinization process currently in use has never been implemented on the scale required for the Sea. Desalinization is expensive even when it is essential to provide drinkable water.


A pilot project is being considered in cooperation with CalEnergy Sephton Water Technologies, and the Bureau of Reclamation.  The project involves using waste geothermal energy and vertical tube evaporation to remove salts and return distilled water to the Sea.  The test will be run at the former Naval Test Base, the same site that has been used to test solar evaporation ponds and enhanced evaporation systems.


If successful, an expanded version of this project would not solve salinity problems at the Sea.  However, combined with other approaches, it could help reduce salinity.


9. Why does the Sea smell?

Much of the Sea, including open water, is free from odors. The smells are detected only in certain areas and at certain times of the year. They are due, in part, to natural processes occurring in the Sea; the smells are not unlike odors present in many marine environments.


The natural decaying process of algae, plants and fish as they die contributes to the smell. In addition, natural processes in the Sea produce ammonia and hydrogen sulfide which give off on odor.  Nearby geothermal plants, aquaculture, and agriculture also contribute to the smell.


10. Why are there large fish die-offs?

Tilapia is the most common fish in the Sea, a species that is sensitive to low temperatures and low oxygen levels. In the winter, when the temperatures in the Sea fall, large fish die-offs may occur. In summer, dying algae blooms use up much of the oxygen in the water, resulting in fish die-offs.


11. What about the bird deaths?

Most bird deaths have resulted from known bird diseases like avian cholera and botulism. The cause of some bird deaths has not been identified, prompting studies to determine if substances in the water are to blame. The Authority has made bird disease control an important aspect of the restoration process.


12. How does the Sea affect air quality?

At current elevation levels, the effect of the Sea on air quality is small, with blowing dust occurring only when lake levels drop a small amount seasonally and the winds are strong and from certain directions. However, because the Sea is so shallow, even minor reductions in lake elevations expose significant amounts of shoreline.


If inflows are reduced by 200,000 acre feet or more, as much as 75 square miles of lake bed could be exposed. Not all or perhaps even most of those exposed sediments would cause problems. More information needs to be gathered to make better predictions. However, sediment conditions around the Sea are likely to be extremely variable and current exposed areas indicate that some areas will cause significant problems with blowing dust.  Because both the Imperial and Coachella Valleys already exceed standards for PM10, a measure of small-sized blowing dust, further air quality declines will need to be addressed.


13. What about the New River?

The New River has been portrayed as the dirtiest river flowing into the U.S. Studies are countering that claim, showing that the river undergoes a natural cleaning process on its 60-mile course from Mexico to the Salton Sea.  Also, a joint U.S./Mexico plant is being built at the border to treat the water in the river. Wetlands have been constructed near Brawley as a test to provide additional treatment of the water as it flows through the wetlands.

For more information, visit: www.newriverwetlands.com


14. What is there to do?

The Sea provides the most productive fishery in the nation. Visitors can also enjoy boating, kayaking and taking a tour on a pontoon boat. The salinity of the water and the elevation of the Sea make for some of the fastest boat racing in the nation.


Birdwatching is very popular at the Salton Sea. Almost 400 species have been identified here, the second largest count in the nation.


The Sea is also very popular for photographers. The mountain backdrop, frequent misty conditions over the Sea, the blue water in a desert setting and the abundance of birds all provide excellent photographic opportunities. 

 Camping offers a pleasurable way to enjoy the beauty of the Sea. There are over 2,000 campsites located around the shores of the Salton Sea for visitors to this scenic desert area.


15. Where can I stay?

Campgrounds and RV parks surround the Sea, primarily in the state park and in the communities around the Sea. Motels are available in communities north and south of the Sea itself.


16. Are there festivals or special events?

Several festivals or other events are held either at the Sea or in nearby areas. The Salton Sea International Bird Festival is a yearly event. The Salton Sea Authority sponsors a symposium, which is held roughly every two years. And, an Annual New River Symposium is held in Brawley in late winter.