California desert oasis the Salton Sea might dry up for good sometime soon. The bad news? That could pose some serious health and environmental risks for the wildlife and nearby residents.
A 2003 decision by California’s Supreme Court was predicted to spell certain doom for the state’s largest lake. Several groups have challenged the Quantification Settlement Agreement, called “the largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer in the history of the United States,” citing environmental concerns. The plan was intended to reduce statewide dependence on the Colorado River, but carries with it the unfortunate side-effect of draining the Salton Sea – in just a matter of years.
Compounding the problem, the drying might release selenium and arsenic from the lake bed. These are toxic, FYI. In fact, the BBC says it could create “clouds of toxic dust across southern California,” also calling the site an “ecological disaster.” The California Audubon Society says that this is already happening. “As water has been siphoned off or agricultural and urban use, dust emissions have increasingly threatened public health,” according to the website.
The San Diego County Water Authority told HuffPo that measures are being taken to prevent the drying of the lake, involving a system of voluntary fallowing – area farmers are offered about $125 an acre from the Imperial Irrigation District to leave their fields fallow (shutting off irrigation) for set periods of time. “Some of the water that is conserved [in this manner] goes to San Diego, and some of it goes to the [Salton] Sea,” said the SDCWA official.
Then again, farmers could always say “no” to the terms.
The Salton Sea was created in 1905 by pure accident – a flood spilled into the area, turning the Salton Sea into a resort town by the 1950s. Increasing salinity from agricultural irrigation put an end to the “waterpark playground in the desert”, and now derelict resorts line the drying lake. Still, the Salton Sea is important in environmental terms, as it is a passing-point for migrating birds. If it dries up, it’ll throw off their migration route, and could lead to their extinction.