California’s largest inland lake, the Salton Sea, lies in the Imperial and Coachella valleys. The lake, which is more than 50 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean, is becoming more salt than water because it’s essentially evaporating. The lake and the area that surrounds it — once hotspots for tourism and wildlife — have essentially become ghost towns.
But while people no longer visit, the lake’s evaporation still has consequences for both humans and animals. Rates of asthma there are disproportionately high and are thought to be caused by dust blown up from the dry lakebed. Meanwhile fish populations are plummeting as are populations of migratory birds. So, what is happening at the Salton Sea and is anything being done about it?
First, a little backstory. The Salton Sea has existed in many forms over millennia, depending on changing flows of water from the nearby Colorado River. It’s located in the Salton Basin near the Mexican border, and geologic evidence shows it has alternated between mostly freshwater, mostly saltwater and nearly dry.
The sea was in a dry phase when in 1905, the Colorado River overflowed, and, due to human error, breached its levees, flooding the desert valley for two years. This created the 400-square-mile (1,036-square-kilometer) inland lake, which was larger than Lake Tahoe.