Restoring and Sustaining the Salton Sea: Supporting Science and Environmental Data Collection and Analysis

EPA Grant Number: R826552
Title: Restoring and Sustaining the Salton Sea: Supporting Science and Environmental Data Collection and Analysis
Investigators: Kirk, Tom
Institution: Salton Sea Authority
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period: September 30, 1998 through September 30, 2003
Project Amount: $4,875,000
RFA: Water and Watersheds (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Water and Watersheds


The overall goal of this research project was to satisfy and sustain several major values and uses of the Salton Sea. Sound judgments are required to assure that all of these needs are retained in a manner consistent with the values of the local community and society in general. The primary values to be served by the scientific and other activities undertaken in this project are listed below.


Provide a Safe, Productive Environment for Resident and Migratory Birds and Endangered Species. Five endangered species are found in the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea also is a critical component of the Pacific Flyway, serving as a winter habitat for millions of waterbirds and as a breeding area for several species. This role of the Sea has increased in importance during the past quarter century because of a loss of wetland habitat within the Flyway and specifically within California, but has become compromised by avian mortality events and perhaps other impacts on avian health.

Maintenance of a Viable Fishery. The fishery of the Sea has been of significant recreational and economic value. Salt tolerant species such as sargo, orangemouth corvina, and tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) have provided a sport fishery of great interest within Southern California. Little was known of the reproductive biology and population dynamics of these species within the Sea prior to work funded under this project. Unchecked levels of salinity are expected to impact reproduction of these species, and it is generally accepted that the Sea is reaching a level at which some species will be adversely affected.

Restoration of Recreation. Water-based recreation has been a major use of the Sea in the past. Although it is uncertain what has made the Sea undesirable as a recreational destination, it is probable that nuisance factors, such as odor, dead fish, dead birds, and algal blooms are major reasons. Research has been conducted to better understand the reasons why water-based recreation has declined and the factors that need to be addressed in the restoration effort of the Sea.

Agricultural Drainage Reservoir. Agriculture constitutes the major economic base in Imperial County and a significant economy in Riverside County. Because of the importance of drainage to maintenance of the agricultural economy and the lack of an alternative disposal site, the Sea has served as the repository for agricultural drainage. Agriculture in its present form relies on the ability to discharge drainage into the Salton Sea, and the Sea is dependent on this drainage as a buffer against accelerated rates of increased salinity and drying up because of the hot desert environment. Agricultural drainage has sustained the Sea for 90 years. This water drainage includes nutrients and other constituents that affect water quality within the Sea. Studies supported by this project have helped to define the limnology of the Sea and the factors influencing the ecological relations involved.

Economic Development. Economic activity surrounding the Sea has been in a depressed state for several years. Because many of the businesses depend on revenue from visitors to the area, the decline in visitation has had a direct impact on business success. Activities to clean up the Sea and restimulate economic growth require a sound scientific basis to avoid undesirable environmental impacts.

Although "saving the Sea" is the ultimate objective, the specific objectives of this project were to: (1) provide resources to undertake syntheses and evaluations of existing scientific information; and (2) initiate and conduct the highest priority research needed to inform the selection and evaluation processes associated with developing sustainable environmental conditions at the Salton Sea that support the values identified above.

The information synthesis, evaluations, and research funded by this project were to provide scientific assessments and recommendations required to inform the entire planning/environmental compliance process toward sound conclusions regarding management alternatives for the Sea. The research activities funded were to help determine and fill information gaps.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 59 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 33 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Restoration, Resources Management, Ecology and Ecosystems, Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration, human use, biodiversity, fish habitat, agricultural ecosystems, conservation, restoration strategies, Salton Sea, acuatic ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, environmental rehabilitation, water quality, recreation

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1999
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • 2002
  • Final Report