Vanishing Lakes: Salton Sea

By Matthew C. Pace

Apr 14 2023

Ingloriously described as “the biggest environmental disaster in California history,” and a "looming environmental and public health crisis," the Salton Sea was formed over 1905–1907 due to a burst canal that flooded the previously dry Salton Basin with water from the Colorado River. In order to keep the lake full for agricultural and tourism uses, more water was diverted from the Colorado River throughout the early and mid-20th century. By the 1970s the Salton Sea had started to accumulate toxic levels of salts, selenium, and nitrates from agricultural fertilizer runoff. This build-up has led to cycles of algal blooms, botulism outbreaks, and fish and bird die-offs. By the 1990s the lake had shrunk dramatically, and today is saltier than the ocean. As the lake continues to vanish, the exposed lake bed has led to toxic dust storms, with significant impacts on human health in the surrounding communities.

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