Monday, November 21, 2011

Salton Sea's Future in Doubt

Salton Sea in California is well known among birders for its breeding populations of waterbird species and the migratory birds each year. Because of changes in the amount of water runoff to the sea, its future as bird habitat is in question. The sea is rapidly evaporating, and its edges are turning into dusty flats. This situation is likely to get worse in the future without active intervention.

With evaporation outpacing incoming agricultural runoff, a thin sheet of water less than an inch deep and 100 yards wide on the east side of the sea's Mullet Island is all that protects tens of thousands of breeding and roosting cormorants, pelicans and herons from coyotes and raccoons....

Environmental conditions are expected to get much worse in a few years at the Salton Sea, a non-draining body of water with no ability to cleanse itself. The sea was created in 1905, when the Colorado River broke through a silt-laden canal and roared unimpeded for two years into the Salton Sink.

Irrigation runoff traditionally helped stabilize the salinity of the sea, and enabled fish to thrive and make the region a haven for tens of thousands of birds and migratory waterfowl, including endangered species such as peregrine falcons, bald eagles, Yuma clapper rails and pelicans.

As it stands, salinity levels at the Salton Sea are about 50,000 parts per million parts of water, authorities said. By comparison, the salinity level of the Pacific Ocean is about 35,000 ppm.

Long-predicted catastrophic changes may begin to unfold in 2017, after an abrupt decrease in the amount of water flowing to the Salton Sea....

The surface will drop about 20 feet by 2030, Cohen said, shrinking the sea's volume by more than 60% and tripling its salinity. The effects will include the loss of fish and the tens of thousands of birds that eat them. The birds that remain will suffer from disease and reproductive deformities.
There is currently a lawsuit underway that seeks to remedy some of the problems that were not addressed in a water deal from 2003 that affects the status of the Salton Sea.