|The Salton Sea|
The Salton Sea is located in the Colorado Desert in Southern California only about 35 miles north of the Mexican border. Although this shallow lake is the largest in California, it is actually a man-made lake forming in the natural Salton Sink. According the California Department of Water Resources [CADWR] (n.d.), "lakes have existed in this basin in the past, [but] the current body of water formed in 1905 when a levee break along the Colorado River caused its flows to enter the basin for about 18 months". The inconsistent inflow comes mainly from agricultural runoff and extra water from nearby New, Whitewater, Alamo, and Colorado Rivers. The only outflow is evaporation. This causes the salinity in the lake to rise to about 48,000 milligrams per liter (mg/L) which is 30% saltier than the ocean (CADWR, n.d.).
Over the 100 years since the Salton Sea's 'creation', it has become an important ecological wetland. In a study at the University at Buffalo, the Salton Sea became one of the most productive fisheries in California in 1985 after the Department of Fish and Game introduced sport fishing (Vessey, 1999). With such abundant food, birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway visited the Salton Sea en mass. Vessey (1999) states that 91% of California's wetlands have disappeared, making the Salton Sea an important stop for the estimated 4 million birds that visit per day in winter. The Salton Sea State Recreation Area [Salton Sea SRA] was created to help maintain the lands.
However productive it was in the past, the Salton Sea no longer offers life and promise. Because of the rising salinity, massive fish die offs have ruined the fishery and wetland. The largest die off was on August 4, 1999 with an estimated 7.6 million fish dead in one day (Vessey 1999), and since then, the lake has only continued to decline. Superintendent of the Salton Sea SRA, Steve Horovitz remembers, "There was a time when more people came to the Salton Sea than went to Yosemite National Park. There was a time when 400,000 boats used the Sea each year. There was a time when the Salton Sea State Recreation Area was the second busiest park within our Department. Many long time residents remember the days when traffic on HWY 111 would back up as campers and boaters made their way to the Salton Sea... Now I stand in the park and am lonely for the want of visitors” (Horovitz, 1998).