Pacific Institute

Haven or Hazard: The Ecology and Future of the Salton Sea

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The Salton Sea, the largest inland body of water in the state of California, lies 35 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in one of the most arid regions in North America. With a surface elevation approximately 227 feet below that of the ocean, the Salton Sea is a study in contrasts: it is an agricultural drainage repository that provides vital habitat for more than 380 species of birds, a lake twenty-five percent saltier than the ocean yet teeming with fish, a productive ecosystem marred by frequent fish and bird die-offs. These contrasts reflect the variety of agricultural, ecological, and recreational values provided by the Salton Sea and are emblematic of the challenges faced by those attempting to preserve and enhance them. The objective of this study is to assess and offer guidance on the complex challenges confronting the Salton Sea and the current efforts to restore it. From a public interest perspective, we evaluate the federal/state strategy for restoring the Salton Sea and propose an alternative, long-term framework for preserving and enhancing the regional ecosystem.

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