5 Things to Know about the Salton Sea

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5 Things to Know about the Salton Sea
In this May 1, 2015, photo, palm trees destroyed in earlier flooding line the banks of the Salton Sea in Salton City, Calif. An air of decline and strange beauty permeates the Salton Sea. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this composite picture made up of a 1960s postcard handout image, left, and a May 1, 2015, photo, a boat ramp is seen in the 1960's and in present day near Salton City, Calif. The Salton Sea, an area that once drew more visitors than Yosemite National Park, now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (Al Scott/via AP /AP Photos/Gregory Bull)
Birds linger near the shoreline of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, CA on April 18, 2015. Scientists and environmentalists are trying to find ways to save the sea. Decades of runoff from agricultural farming has polluted the water and as the sea dries, airborne pollutants could scatter throughout the region. Additionally, the Sea provides refuge for migrating birds. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, steam rises from geothermal mud pots near the banks of the Salton Sea near Niland, Calif., evidence of the region's vast geothermal activity. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
A dead fish lies on the shore next to the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015. California's largest lake is facing major environmental problems with a decreasing water level, increasing salinity and algae issues. (Photo by Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images)
Waves break on the shore next to the North Shore Yacht Club at the Salton Sea, California on March 19, 2015. California's largest lake is facing major environmental problems with a decreasing water level, increasing salinity and algae issues. (Photo by Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images)
Dead fish cover the shoreline as a father an son head out to fish the Salton Sea in Mecca, CA on April 18, 2015. The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, background, was once a destination for celebrities and tourists. In later years it was abandoned. Several years ago it was restored and now serves as a community center. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A pelican flies above the Salton Sea in Imperial County, CA on April 18, 2015. The ongoing drought and modified farming practices have reduced water to the sea and increased its salinity. The sea provides refuge for a variety of wildlife. Scientists and environmentalists are trying to find ways to save the sea. Decades of runoff from agricultural farming has polluted the water and as the sea dries, airborne pollutants could scatter throughout the region. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
In this May 1, 2015, aerial photo, irrigated citrus trees sit surrounded by bone-dry land near Westmorland, Calif. The Imperial Valley’s half-million acres of verdant fields end abruptly in pale dirt that gets three inches of rain annually on average. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015, photo, Mark Messenger looks out over the Salton Sea as he prepares to sleep in his car on the banks in Salton City, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015, aerial photo, exposed lake bed of the Salton Sea dries out near Niland, Calif. San Diego and other Southern California water agencies will stop replenishing the lake in 2017, raising concerns that dust from the exposed lake bed will exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illness in a region whose air quality already fails federal standards. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, a dead tilapia floats among algae in a shallow Salton Sea bay near Niland, Calif. Though many species of fish have been brought to Salton Sea over the years, the hearty tilapia fish and native desert pupfish are the only ones left, and increasing salinity endangers them. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, biologist Tom Anderson of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Refuge Complex makes a call along the receding banks of the Salton Sea near Niland, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015 aerial picture, exposed lakebed of the Salton Sea dries out near Niland, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015, aerial photo, morning light reflects off water in the All-American Canal near Calexico, Calif. Colorado River water is diverted near Yuma, Arizona, to an 82-mile canal that runs west along the Mexican border and then north into 1,700 miles of gated dirt and concrete channels that crisscross farms. When gates open, water floods fields and gravity carries increasingly salty runoff downhill through the New and Alamo rivers to the Salton Sea. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015 picture, oxygen-starved tilapia float in a shallow Salton Sea bay near Niland, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015 picture, Jose Alcantara, 17, behind, poses with his mother, Marta Sanchez, 45, in Mecca, Calif. Alcantara has become an activist for his mother, whose bronchitis worsened after the family moved to Mecca in 2010. The family believes dust from the exposed Salton Sea lakebed exacerbates respiratory illnesses in the region. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, farmer Al Kalin walks back to his truck on his farm near Westmorland, Calif. Kalin, who farms 1,800 acres near the Salton Seas's southern shores, installed sprinklers and other water saving measures to replace flood irrigation over the last five years. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo. biologist Tom Anderson of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Refuge Complex steers an airboat across the shallow waters of the Salton Sea near Niland, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, an American coot runs across the surface of the Salton Sea before taking flight near Niland, Calif. Located on what is called the "Pacific flyway," heavy migrations of waterfowl, marsh and seabirds take advantage of the Salton Sea during spring and fall. For them, the lake is a desert oasis from vast stretches of rock and sand. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this April 29, 2015, photo, biologist Tom Anderson of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Refuge Complex steers an airboat across the shallow waters of the Salton Sea near Niland, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
In this May 1, 2015 picture, Frank Price, 65, stands under in the shade of his garage as he cleans his car in Salton Sea Beach, Calif. Often called the "The Accidental Sea," because it was created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905, Salton Sea now faces a looming calamity as coastal Southern California clamors for more water. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
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An air of decline and strange beauty permeates the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California that is on the verge of drying up as it competes against coastal cities for dwindling water resources amid a historic drought.

WATER TRANSFERS TO SAN DIEGO ARE DRYING UP CALIFORNIA'S LARGEST LAKE

The sale of water from California's Imperial Valley to San Diego deprives the Salton Sea of farm runoff, its main source of inflows. After 2017, San Diego and other local water agencies are no longer required to deliver water to the Salton Sea to help offset the losses.

The state of California has agreed to spearhead efforts to restore the lake and offset environmental damages from the water sale. In 2007, it proposed a $9 billion plan to create a horseshoe-shaped lake in the northern basin and saline habitat in other parts of the lake. Less ambitious plans have also been floated, but little has been done.

EXPOSED LAKEBEDS STIR DUST, EXACERBATING RESPIRATORY ILLS

The lake's shrinkage has exposed about 18 square miles of salt-encrusted lakebed since 2005. Pacific Institute, which has done extensive research on the lake, estimates that about 100 additional square miles will be exposed by 2030 without preventive measures and another 50 square miles by 2045.

Imperial County's air quality already fails federal and state standards, and public health experts warn that increased dust from Salton Sea lakebed will make it worse.

FISH KILLS ARE COMMON

Winds periodically stir hydrogen sulfide from the bottom of the lake, stripping oxygen from water closer to the surface, producing a rotten-egg stench and killing fish.

More than 60 species of fish have been brought to the Salton Sea over the years, said Chris Schoneman, project leader of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Refuge. The hearty tilapia are the only ones left in abundance, and increasingly salinity endangers them.

MORE THAN 400 BIRD SPECIES ARE SPOTTED

The Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge has recorded 424 species of birds. Located on the Pacific flyway, heavy migrations of waterfowl, marsh and seabirds occur during spring and fall. For them, the lake is a desert oasis from vast stretches of rock and sand.

IT HAS ONE OF NORTH AMERICA'S LARGEST GEOTHERMAL DEPOSITS

Magma from the earth's center rises through shifting tectonic plates, drawing about a dozen geothermal plants to the lake's southern shores.

A shrinking lake is actually good for geothermal development. Energy Source LLC opened the first new geothermal plant in 20 years in 2012, a $400 million investment. Vince Signorotti, vice president for resources and real estate assets, says exposed lakebed is potentially new territory for exploration.

Salton Sea

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