As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected
By Megan Williams
30 September 2019
On August 20, the State of California’s Coastal Commission approved a controversial plan to divert ocean water from the Salton Sea into the Salton River, thereby saving it from ecological disaster. The plan was developed by the San Diego–based company Poseidon, LLC.
Once a pristine habitat for migrating whales and giant clams, the Salton Sea is now the site of the largest freshwater inland delta in North America, which is surrounded by a chain of man-made canals designed to drain off the saltwater into the ocean. The sea is also an important source of drinking water for Southern California, drawing millions of people and businesses to the area.
In 2015, California voters rejected a $10-billion bond to save the sea, and the Salton Sea is losing water at a rate of 30,000 acre-feet per year, or an estimated 400,000 acre-feet a year. This has contributed to the sea’s shrinking salinity and increasing salinity that threatens fish, shrimp, crab and other life-forms. The loss of water from the delta has been attributed to two major factors: the use of ground water for drinking and irrigation, and the destruction of wetlands.
The State of California approved the project in the midst of a severe drought that has caused the salinity of the Salton Sea to decline by more than 10 percent since 2014. The plan, called a water grab, would divert 1.25 million acre-feet of fresh water from the delta into the Salton River—this amount is equivalent to an average three-inch rain fall—and add it to the river. The water is then pumped into the ground from a reservoir in the Salton Hills.
The result of the plan would be to greatly increase salinity in the river, reducing the salinity of the delta by 5 percent each year, in addition to increasing the salinity in the river and the delta. At the same time, it would also likely cause the river to dry up for up to two years.
As environmental groups have denounced the diversion of fresh water from the Salton Sea, Poseidon, LLC, a state-approved private utility, claimed that the diversion would benefit salmon, shrimp and other marine life living in the sea. But the company’s estimates of the benefits to