Making the case for saving the Salton Sea

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Failure to stop the Salton Sea from drying up would cost the state tens of billions of dollars in lost jobs, sliding property values and damage to public health, according to a new report.

The Pacific Institute’s “Hazard’s Toll: The Cost of Inaction at the Salton Sea,” warns of “catastrophic” environmental changes. Among other things, it says allowing the sea to dry up would release 100 tons of dust into the air every day.

A $10 billion revitalization plan endorsed last year by state’s Natural Resources Agency has stalled in Sacramento because of the high cost. The report calls that short sighted:

saltonsea-deadfish“Because the Salton Sea has changed over the past decade and will soon enter a period of very rapid decline, the costs of inaction are escalating rapidly. Even at the low end of the costs estimated in Hazard’s Toll, the long-term social and economic costs of a deteriorating Salton Sea could approach $29 billion, well in excess of the project cost of the state’s plan.”

The shallow, salty sea is really a lake. It was formed 110 years ago when the Colorado River overflowed its banks. It covers about 350 square miles in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

The Salton Sea has no natural water source. It’s fed by irrigation runoff from nearby agriculture. The sea was once a popular fishing and camping spot, but it’s been in declining health for decades. The deterioration has sped up in recent years as more runoff has been diverted.

Decaying organic matter in the sea emitted a sulfurous, rotten-egg odor that wafted over a large swath Southern California for several days last year.

Press Play’s Madeleine Brand interviewed Michael Cohen of The Pacific Institute about the abandonment of the Salton Sea.

Cohen says the sea is shrinking so fast it will hit a tipping point “the amount of water flowing into the Salton will decrease dramatically,” the water level will fall and the salinity will increase. He says that some estimates say that within 30 years there may be as much as 100 tons of dust blowing per day off the Salton Sea lake bed.” And this dust can cause severe health problems for nearby residents. 

“The costs of doing nothing are not zero, in fact they are quite significant,” says Cohen

This post has been updated.