Author: Joe

Salton Sea: The Saltiest Water imaginable

Salton Sea: The Saltiest Water imaginable

As Salton Sea faces ecological collapse, a plan to save it with ocean water is rejected in Congress. That’s a victory.

In May, when I visited Salton Sea, California’s largest saltwater desert, the local news was dominated by reports about a drought and an impending water shortage. In response, Salton Sea was named the “Dirty, Dirty, Dirty Desert” by the National Geographic Magazine. In order to save Salton Sea, the state of California and the federal government were planning to pump massive amounts of water from the sea to sustain its aquifer.

Dry salt marshes grow into huge inland seas, where salty water fills the intertidal zone from the ocean surface and accumulates in the intertidal zone. As the salt water rises, it becomes brine, the saltiest water imaginable.

Salton Sea also has very shallow intertidal zones dominated by tidal flats, dominated by long-established salt marshes. Those marshes are made of interwoven tidal plants, which are long-lived, semi-aquatic plants that grow in areas where waterlogged mud and sediment can accumulate. As the saltwater rises, it becomes brine, the saltiest water imaginable.

In a short article on Salton Sea, National Geographic noted the “inherent difficulty” of building a sea-salted inland sea in such a way that the salinity of the water remains low enough to support salt-loving plants. “One of the key elements of the project is to control the salinity of the water,” said David Leckie, a geologist with the California Coastal Conservancy.

The problem is, most of the ocean water already sits too high in the water column, and too salty to be used in a sea-salted inland sea. But while the salinity of the water in Salton Sea is too high to use it to feed the marshes, the salinity of the water in the sea is low enough that it could be used to support plant life. But that water is trapped in the salt marshes, not the intertidal zone, leaving Salton Sea vulnerable to evaporation and saltwater intrusion.

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