A new plan proposed by the San Diego Water Authority to transfer water from California’s Salton Sea–the state’s largest lake–to San Diego county is facing harsh criticism by environmentalists, who say that such an enormous change would drain the lake in no time and have grave effects on the atmosphere.
The lake was formed in 1905 after a massive flood and became known as an oasis in the desert, thought of as a miracle by the people who flocked there in the ’20s to form a resort town. Agricultural irrigation, however, caused the waters to have a high saline content–higher than that of the Pacific Ocean, in fact– which killed off wildlife and took tourists with it; there are still ghostly remnants of the little town left at the lake’s shores.
The plan, called the Quantification Settlement Agreement, would divert 200,000 acre-feet of water from farmland into urban areas in an effort to decrease their dependence on the Colorado River as a water source. While it sounds like a good idea in theory, the implications of such a move are enormous; just one acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, and at that rate the lake will dry up quickly.
The biggest problem would ensue after a dry lake bed releases harmful elements like selenium and arsenic into the air, creating a toxic environment. Because fertilizer runoff from nearby farms has mixed with the incredibly high saline content of the water, bacteria blooms there like vicious flowers. Geothermal activity is also visible on the Eastern side of the Sea, which creates mini mud-volcanoes.
The San Diego Water Authority claims the diversion won’t take that big a toll on the waters, however, and stand by their decision. No word yet on when the transfer will begin.