With a surface level at 227 feet below sea level and shoreline temperatures often rising past 120 degrees, the Salton Sea could be mistaken for the headwaters of the River Styx. Sometimes, concentrations of salt in the brackish lake, formed by a not-quite-natural overflow of the nearby Colorado River a century ago, asphyxiate resident tilapia fish by the thousands. Currently California's largest lake--larger, even, than Tahoe--the Salton Sea itself may soon dry up, leaving a dust-filled crater.
The Salton Sea sits likes a time bomb in the desert, serving up a brew of bad smells, turgid waters and the potential to increase air pollution in an area where thousands of homes are planned. But under a proposal making its way through the Legislature, some of the sea's lurking hazards may be stopped. Instead, the Salton Sea may be shrunk to a third of its current 240,000 acres and revived as a recreational lake for sport fish and migrating birds. All it will take is billions of dollars and at least 75 years of maintenance.
Throughout the high-stakes poker game that coastal cities and a giant irrigation district have been playing for the past seven years in the California desert � with a rich pot of Colorado River water the prize � the Salton Sea has been a peripheral presence, like a high-roller's mistress standing just outside the glare of the lights. But events earlier this year suggest that the ecologically ailing drainage sump at the heart of the Imperial Valley has really been manipulating the game all along.
The Salton Sea is sometimes referred to as Southern California's Lake Tahoe, and while efforts to save the northern lake took shape 20 years ago, officials only now are making big decisions about the future environmental health of the southern water body. The Salton Sea (which is also sometimes called a lake) has been in a downward environmental spiral in recent years. Rising salinity, warnings about eating its fish, oxygen depleting algal blooms, and the deaths of thousands of birds and fish ...