News Feature | December 12, 2013

Can Desalination Save The Salton Sea?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


The water in California's Salton Sea is vanishing. 

That's a big problem for people in the area. According to an opinion piece in the Desert Sun, the Salton Sea water loss "poses a growing environmental and economic threat to the Coachella Valley, Imperial County and the state."

The dewatering of the Salton Sea "began in 2003, and will significantly increase after 2017, adding to the regional threat," the report said. "Seaside community health, air quality, wildlife, recreation, and tourism have all been affected."

The Desert Review described a threat of "ecosystem death, permanent intractable air pollution, and loss of wildlife habitat." It said enormous amounts of money are also at stake if the state chases "one ineffectual stopgap fix after another."

Some voices are pointing to desalination as a key part of any long-term fix. 

"Preservation, not restoration, is the only solution. However, preservation will require water inflow to balance natural evaporation plus limited desalination for the sea to again become an attractive recreation asset," according to the Sun.

How could desalination help matters? Under this proposal, the region would "build a desalinization plant, while shrinking the size of the sea. The plant would desalinate runoff as it entered the sea so it could be sold to the cities, leaving behind water for the sea," according to the New York Times

The downside is this is expensive, potentially costing billions. The state continues to explore its options. 

While there is significant debate on whether desalination is the right course, Californians appear to agree on one thing: the Salton Sea is definitely worth saving.

“One hopeful sign is that many state authorities seem determined to save the sea. That is important. At issue here is not just a reservoir for runoff, but an important ecosystem," the Times said. 

For more on desalination—including the fight to halt a California plant—visit Water Online. 

Image credit: "Salton Se," © 2008 SkinheadSportBiker1, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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