Disappearing Salton Sea: Saving the recreational paradise or is it too late?
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) —
There have been years of drought and a shrinking shoreline and for once, it is not Lake Mead.
Instead, it is the Salton Sea in California. The state's largest lake has become an environmental nightmare.
High concentrations of salt have been threatening to fish and bird populations.
Now, the push is on to save the sea, but is it too late?
What does saving the sea mean for water usage along the Colorado River?
Gas Station Owner Lorenzo Olivrez has been around long enough to remember when times were different.
"From 1974, people have been coming here with their boats to go fishing with tons of other activities to do," says Oliverez.
When the soundtrack of the Salton Sea was something other than the constant drone of flies less than a mile from the water, Oliverez knows exactly what went wrong.
"I know, it is too salty," he says.
Joan Taylor is an environmentalist who has worked on issues with the Salton Sea for more than two decades.
"The fishery appears to be dying. It is an inside basin and it will get more saline," says Taylor. "Half the species, bird species that migrate from South America to Canada are feeling the hit too."
However, to understand what the Salton Sea is, it is important to remember what it was.
Back in the 1950's and 1960's, it was a recreational paradise.
With Hollywood elite flocking to the water, a so-called "accidental lake" was created when an irrigation canal broke in the early 1900's. That is how the Colorado River flowed in.
Phil Rosentrater is the General Manager and Executive Director of the Salton Sea Authority and he says, "Right now we have a sea that has limited in-flow, it is mostly fed from agricultural runoff," Rosentrater said.
Today, deserted campgrounds and boarded up old buildings greet the casual traveler.
However, with roughly 100 miles of shoreline, a plan is in the works to save the shrinking of the lake. The issues are economic, ecological and health-related from the exposed playa.
One thing News 3 camera cannot pick up is the smell of hydrogen sulfide coming off the Salton Sea. Think of rotten eggs spreading for miles. People who live nearby tell News 3 during the Summer, the smell is constant.
"Doing nothing is the most irresponsible and costly of all alternatives. We occasionally have strong winds blow all the way to Los Angeles. We are talking about a human health impact, not just this area. It is 10's of millions of people inhaling fine particulate dust," says Rosentrater.
Rosentrater says there are opportunities here, such as geothermal energy projects. The issue, of course, is money.
"The first ten years of that plan are estimated to be in the $400 million range. Catching the water as it flows in, and as it spreads out while having some habitat and dust coverage at the same time," says Rosentrater.
Bronson Mack with Southern Nevada Water Authority says 90% of our water supply here in the valley comes from the Colorado River.
"When you look at the Colorado River, we are all connected. How Colorado River water is used to help the Salton Sea in the future provides a level of certainty to water managers here in Nevada," says Mack.
In the meantime, California is receiving technical expertise and support for restoration projects from the Bureau of Reclamation charged with overseeing water resource management throughout the region.
Genevieve Johnson, a Salton Sea Program Manager-Bureau of Reclamation is stationed in Boulder City. He tells News 3, "The Salton Sea issue is not necessarily going to affect water use in Nevada. There could be other issues related to drought which is the bigger issue across the whole west."
Back at the shore, locals, and Environmentalist Joan Taylor agree something has got to give.
"Although I think it is beautiful, I do not swim in it anymore," says Taylor.
Olivrez has built a life around the Salton Sea.
"Everybody knows everybody," he says.
Until then, he is still waiting for customers to return who rule the shoreline.