Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Cost Of Doing Nothing At The Salton Sea May Be Higher Than Cost Of Repair

Cost Of Doing Nothing At The Salton Sea May Be Higher Than Cost Of Repair
At The Salton Sea The High Cost Of Repair May Be Less Than The Cost Of Doing Nothing GUESTS:Michael Cohen, senior associate with The Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research organization, and author of a new report on the Salton SeaKevin Kelley, general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District

The Salton Sea is California's largest lake and it is in trouble.

The creation of the sea was an accident. But environmentalists warn that the shrinking of the 350 square mile saltwater lake in Imperial County could cause a disaster. Water transfers and a drier climate could turn the Salton Sea into a dead sea.

The size of the sea is expected to decline dramatically in coming years.


A new report on the Salton Sea estimates that the volume of the lake will shrink by more than 50 percent in the next 15 years. If no mitigation or reclamation project is undertaken, the report projects the costs of the shrinking lake will include impacts to Southern California's ecology and public health.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tim Krantz, an environmental studies professor at the University of Redlands said the public health hazards caused by the exposed sea bed could have an impact around the region.

"This is a regional, interstate and binational problem. [Because of complex water agreements], the inflows will be reduced. That'll expose about 100, 140, 150 square miles of lake bed. The particles in the sediments at the bottom of the lake are so small — you could get 30 of them in the width of a human hair — that if you breathe them in, you cannot expel them, they can [get] into your bloodstream. Attached to these particles are very toxic things like arsenic, selenium, cadmium. Once airborne, they can travel hundreds of miles," Krantz said in the interview.

People who've studied this body of water say California now faces a Hobbesian Choice: spend billions to save it or pay billions more in health and environmental costs if it's allowed to dry up.

Meanwhile, officials in Imperial County say they don't want to see an untapped source of geothermal energy beneath the sea go to waste.


A bill, SB 1139, which would have required California's public utilities to purchase at least 500 megawatts of geothermal energy over the next 10 years, recently failed in the state Assembly.

Undeterred, the Imperial Irrigation District is about to publish a document outlining a plan for restoration of the Salton Sea and for developing renewable energy projects for the Salton Sea.

In an editorial published by the Imperial Valley Press, Kevin Kelley, General Manager for the IID wrote: "...there is something else that remains unchanged by the outcome of this bill, and it looms larger than the particular attributes – minus the emissions of natural gas – of the untapped geothermal energy resource at the Salton Sea, or the lithium-rich content of the brine stream there or the ongoing drought or even the fate of the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer on which the disposition of the restoration/mitigation question depends.

It is in our resolve as an irrigation district and public power provider to hold others to account and to protect the region and its people from the aftereffects of an unchecked environmental ghetto. And that resolve has only deepened in the wake of this bill’s defeat."