The demand of growing populations for water has meant diverting rivers that once fed lakes. This article profiles California's shrinking Salton Sea and the consequences of its decline.
"An enormous blue void at the north end of the Imperial Valley, the Salton Sea once attracted more visitors than Yosemite. But California’s largest lake is now mostly forgotten, and those who know of it don’t have flattering things to say: they’ll tell you about vast beaches where the sand is made of fish bones; about eerie, half-abandoned Mad Max-esque communities; and most of all, its noxious emissions. In 2012, the Salton Sea burped up a cloud of sulfurous odor so thick that residents in Los Angeles 150 miles away were hit by the nauseating smell of rotten eggs. Though it’s been shrinking for decades, on January 1st, 2018, the Salton Sea entered a nosedive. Thanks to a water transfer agreement with San Diego, 40 percent less water will now flow into the sea. It will recede dramatically, and its already shallow surface level will drop 20 feet. By 2045, its waters will be five times as salty as the Pacific Ocean, killing whatever fish still live there and scattering the birds that feed on them. Though we often think of lakes as permanent landmarks, global warming, irrigation, and our constant thirst threaten these resources around the world. Terminal lakes like the Salton Sea, bodies of water that have no natural drain, are particularly vulnerable. Iran’s Lake Urmia — once the largest body of water in the Middle East — has shrunk by almost 90 percent over the last 30 years; Africa’s Lake Chad is also 90 percent smaller than it was in the 1960s; and Kazakhstan’s Aral Sea, once the fourth largest salt lake in the world, has practically been wiped off the map. When these lakes evaporate, they can upend industries and erase surrounding communities. For residents near the Salton Sea, the most pressing problem is the threat of toxic dust. The receding Salton Sea will reveal at least 75 square miles of playa, the lake bed that the water once hid. When that soil dries, it will begin to emit dust laced with industrial runoff from the surrounding farms: up to 100 tons of dust could blow off the playa daily."
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