Al Kalin gives BOS update on the Salton Sea



EL CENTRO – Al Kalin, Westmorland farmer and Salton Sea expert, gave a comprehensive and sweeping presentation on the State of the Salton Sea to the Board of Supervisors, Tuesday.

He challenged many commonly held beliefs concerning the largest lake in California. The first was the assumption of the sea being “accidental” as Barbara Boxer, past Interior Secretary Salazar, and other officials have tagged it because of the overflow of the Colorado River in 1905.

The Imperial Valley is part of the massive Colorado River delta and the silt the mighty river carried over millennium eventually created a berm that separated the northern body of water from the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California.

Water lineThe northern lake was first named Lake Cahuilla and occupied most of the valley. Kalin had photos depicting several people 40 feet up the local mountains sitting at the water mark that once showed how high the lake rose.lake

As drought, flash floods, and Colorado River flooding changed the giant lake, archeologists agree that for over 75% of the past 1300 years, the lake existed.

Kalin informed the board that the major reason for the receding shoreline was drought and not the water transfer. He said the IID has been allowing extra water to flow to the sea to mitigate the water transfer. California is in a severe drought and that has caused the shoreline to shrink. More problems will arise when the IID stops the extra water to mitigate the effects of the QSA and the drought continues. “Then you will see the sea rapidly decrease,” Kalin said.

Irrigating the valley brought changes to the Salton Sea, also. The sea has declined and rose according to farming practices these past 100 years, according to Kalin.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed an executive order saying, “All submerged lands in the Salton Sink are set aside as a permanent repository for irrigation drainage waters. Imperial Irrigation District will control flooding rights on most of the land below the minus -220 elevation.’

Kalin explained how the sea creates a beneficial micro-climate for the ranches surrounding the body of water. The Sea assures frost proof growing for the eastern shore, and bankers loan farm dollars for fragile crops to be grown in the buffer zone, knowing the climate fluctuates between 49 and 55 degrees for the lows during the winter.

The summer southeast breeze also cool the downwind fields keeping the summer highs between 90-95 degrees.

The weather buffering aspects and the natural habitat are two vital reasons for saving the sea, Kalin told the board. A negative aspect, just as important a reason for keeping the sea at past levels, is the health aspects. The exposed playa allows wind to blow an asthma- inducing white smoke- like pollution through the valley. Interestingly enough, Kalin pointed out that the QSA states habitat over human health as a primary cause for healing the sea.

The sea collects water runoff from over 5 million acres as three sides of the Salton Sea are mountains that slope to the sea and the fourth side, the Imperial Valley uses gravity to carry field run off to the sink.

QSAKalin heralded the successful efforts the farmers have done, imposing total maximum daily loads (TMDL) of silt that can be washed into the drainage ditches. Silt is the principal conveyor of phosphate, the source of algae bloom in the sea. By best farming practices, the phosphate discharge into the sea has decreased by 71%. There have been other benefits to their improved farming practices concerning the sea.

Other trials, such as wetlands, have shown to be successful also. Kalin told the board the time for research and the money it consumes is over. Many of these small, inexpensive projects that have been tried and tested throughout the Valley need to be implemented.

Kalin astutely noted that the problem for the valley is we have 3.1 million acre feet of water and 175,000 people. The thirsty coast has 18 million people. They have 32 voting congressman and the Valley has ½ of 1.

Owens Valley to our north, whose water was taken from them for the cities, is the dustiest place in the United States. Kalin asked if the Imperial Valley will overtake Owens Valley as the dustiest site in the U.S. if we lose our water?


  1. Years ago I designed a polyurethane salt brick to sell as building product. It was amazing in that it would not burn was very strong and insect repellant. It consumed a small amount of foam resin you could crumble in your hand and turned it into a stable material that could be used like a cinder block for construction but provided a R44 wall with better tensile strength. I designed these as a way to permanently dispose of salt removed from natural springs before they ran into the Colorado river. With the small subsidy the BLM would pay for the salt removal it appeared viable but not supper attractive. Since then building products have gotten more expensive and rising energy prices have made fireproof / R44 walls even more attractive so it should provide a better ROI now. It seems like the same design and nearly all of the same business plan would work to consume salt from the Salton sea but it would take some work establishing code approval for use of the new building product. The other side effect from the process which is millions of gallons of purified water would also be beneficial for the Salton Sea area.

  2. I was horrified to learn that only 17 of 100 golf courses in the 2 valleys use recycled water on their fairways!Now,As To Salton Sea:
    Why not import Gulf of California seawater through a 19-inch pipe, situated in the bed of The New River. A desalination plant in the valley could operate at half-speed, to bring the saline level down to ocean levels.

    • It’s too much salt. You would need to remove 91 *million tons* of salt to get the salt level down to ocean levels. The real question is what are you going to do with it after extraction? Your average rail car can carry maybe 100 tons, so you’d need about 900,000 rail car loads which you then have to dump somewhere. Any ideas on a county in the U.S. willing to play host to Mount Saltmore?

      Oh and let’s be generous and say that the tracks go right up to your desalinization plant and their traveling max 500 miles. Every ton of material transported costs you a gallon of diesel. Now you need to foot a bill for $400 million in transport costs. And don’t just say we’ll pile it up right there. You will utterly destroy the local water table and blight any land you try to use for this purpose.

      Lets say, for the sake of argument, that you were dumping all of this salt on a 160 acre field. Your hypothetical Mount Saltmore would be over 300ft. high *if* you could perfectly stack it and it wasn’t just a pile of salt.

      Now compound all of this with the difficulty that the sea is increasing in salinity by almost this concentration *every single year* and you can begin to fathom why simple solutions have already been discarded for this incredibly difficult problem.

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