Yellow line indicates watershed that helps irrigate farmland; some of the water eventually ends up in the Salton
  • Yellow line indicates watershed that helps irrigate farmland; some of the water eventually ends up in the Salton
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San Diegans haven't awakened to a major water-supply peril: the possibility that a 2003 deal arranged to bring water from the Imperial Valley could be in deep trouble.

A May 4 New Yorker article says that by 2021, the county will get 25 percent of its water from Imperial Valley. (A 2012 article published in the Reader, warning of the same peril, said the county was already getting 27 percent of its water from Imperial Valley. A Reader article published last year also addressed our reliance on Imperial Valley water.)

A better view of the amount of agricultural activity south of the Salton

A better view of the amount of agricultural activity south of the Salton


Much of the problem centers on the Salton Sea. It is drying up. The wind blows particulates and other dangerous matter around Imperial Valley. Childhood asthma in the region is the worst in the state. Also, farmers say they have insufficient water. The transfer of water to San Diego cuts off agricultural runoff that should replenish the Salton Sea. The state has promised to handle rehabilitation.

If there is no significant action by 2017, "the sea will begin to decline precipitously," worsening the health hazards, writes Dana Goodyear of the New Yorker. "Predictably, the relationship between the Imperial Irrigation District and the San Diego Water Authority has the barely subdued tension of an arranged marriage."

And then comes the ominous statement: "No restoration by 2017, no water for San Diego."

Writes Goodyear, "San Diego, of course, has a huge amount to lose. If the scenario at the Salton Sea seems like doomsday, imagine the San Diego of the near future, deprived of a quarter of its water in the middle of a megadrought."

And, she writes, San Diego has "virtually no natural water supply."

More noteworthy passages from the New Yorker piece:

Mary Nichols, the state’s top air-quality official, says, “The nightmare scenario is the pictures we’ve all seen of the Dust Bowl that contributed to the formation of California in the first place.”

It is hot in the valley, up to a hundred and twenty degrees in the summer months. The farmers tend to travel. Their wives may prefer to spend summers in La Jolla. Half the land is tenant-farmed; in some cases, the owners live elsewhere. “It functions as a plantation,” a local activist told me.

“We have an ‘Oh, shit’ deadline with 2017,” Keali’i Bright, the deputy secretary of legislative affairs at the California Natural Resources Agency, told me.

Suddenly, we were in treacherous territory, possibly offensive to the in-laws. The [Imperial Valley] farmers so piqued about giving up their water to San Diego were in fact San Diegans?

[San Diego Water Authority general manager Maureen] Stapleton glanced sharply at [her associate, Dan] Denham, and, when she thought I wasn’t looking, mouthed the word “careful.”

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swell April 28, 2015 @ 9:35 p.m.

There is a small, vocal, eccentric community around the Salton Sea who are desperately trying to save it. If it dries up completely, all the chemicals at the bottom will blow around creating a serious health hazard. And, of course, real estate values will bottom out. They would love to have some of that Colorado river water, but they have no political resources. The farmers have been getting it, farther south, and their acreage is lush and green.

Additionally, southeastern Salton Sea is the trigger point for a fault line that runs north and then west, culminating in Hollywood. A weightless, waterless Sea could trigger a quake that might not be great in Imperial Valley, but would increase as it works its way north and west. By the time it reaches LA, it would be devastating.

And more... This is my own prediction: A significant quake in Imperial Valley could open a clear path for the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) to pour in to the Salton Sea area, wiping out much of the Imperial Valley. Remember, the Salton Sea is 226' below sea level. Look at a topographical map and you will note that the Salton Sea seems much like a former part of the Gulf of California.

But in any case, Imperial Valley has no useful water but that from the Colorado river. The allocation of that water has been negotiated continually for many decades. The federal government is part of that process.


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 6:16 a.m.

swell: Yes, there are still people living quite close to the Salton Sea. They are mentioned in the New Yorker article.

The key question is whether the state will honor its obligation to rehabilitate the Salton Sea -- an expensive proposition. If the state reneges, troubles will rise. Best, Don Bauder


danfogel April 29, 2015 @ 8:33 a.m.

A couple of geologic points. The Sallton Sea, for all intents and purposes, existed before the formation of the Gulf of California. The area that roughly includes the Coachella and Imperial Valleys and the western half of the Mexicali Valley and the Colorado River delta in Mexico, is called the Salton Trough. The Colorado River has been filling the Salton Trough with sediments for almost 6 million years. That sediment covers over 3000square miles and is up to 3.5 miles deep. Only about 4-5 million years ago, what is now the Baja Peninsula began to split from the mainland of Mexico and the waters of the Pacific began to create the Gulf of California. The area of the Coachella and Imperial valleys, as far north as Indio, would indeed be part of the Gulf of California today, except for the sediments deposited over millions of years by the Colorado River were already in place. The south end of the San Andreas,near Box Canyon 40 miles from Palm Springs, ends in the Brawley seismic zone and the area includes the Elsinore, Imperial, Laguna Salada and San Jacinto fault zones. About 5 yrs ago, there was a 7.2 earthquake in the area. The epicenter was in Baja, along the Laguna Salada fault about 30 miles south of the US/Mexico border. It would take something a hell of a lot bigger than that for your "prediction" to come to fruition. As they say, ocean front property in Yuma.


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 10:04 a.m.

danfogel: As I used to say in speeches: "Phoenix doesn't have a coastline. Seismologists tell us it will have a coastline." Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 10:12 a.m.

GOV. BROWN INCREASES PROGRAM AIMED AT REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSION. Gov. Jerry Brown today (April 29) issued an executive order making the program to thwart greenhouse gas emissions even tougher. Under the new rules, emissions must be reduced by 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030. Under current law, emissions would be cut 80 percent over 1990 levels by 2050.

Global warming could be a major factor in exacerbating the state's long-running drought. Best, Don Bauder


JustWondering April 29, 2015 @ 12:36 p.m.

Or, could just be Mother Nature's natural cycle of wet or dry periods? I'm just wondering if the Govenor will institute a building moratorium now that we are in a drought.


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 1:36 p.m.

JustWondering: Oh yes. There are fascinating paleoclimatology studies that I have gone over. It's quite possible that the 20th century was aberrationally wet in the Southwest. Think of the consequences of that: our infrastructure may have been plotted and constructed based on weather expectations that were erroneous.

John Wesley Powell, a remarkable man, explored the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in the 19th century. He concluded that there was not enough water for extensive development and farming in the West. The railroad trusts denounced him and paid off Congressmen. Now some astute people suspect that Powell was right. Best, Don Bauder


JustWondering April 29, 2015 @ 2:29 p.m.

"...our infrastructure may have been plotted and constructed based on weather expectations that were erroneous."

If that turns out to be the case, and this dry period lasts for an 'extended' period, Southern California may become the Detroit of the West.


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 3:05 p.m.

JustWondering: You are exactly right. I am not saying it will happen, but scientists say it CAN happen. There is a definite likelihood of such a calamity occurring. This is complicated by climate change. The heat could rise substantially at a time when the drought intensifies.

The prudent thing to do -- yes, the CONSERVATIVE thing -- would be to plan for a calamity, knowing it may not come. I think there is enough evidence for a sharp reduction of, and possibly a moratorium on, real estate development, at least in the most vulnerable locations. Best, Don Bauder


eastlaker April 29, 2015 @ 7:39 p.m.

Wanted to "thumbs up" your comment and article, but am not allowed to!


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 8:09 p.m.

eastlaker: I can't help you on that one. That's not my department. Best, Don Bauder


ImJustABill April 29, 2015 @ 8:14 p.m.

So instead of doing something REAL to fix the water problems in CA (like building reservoirs, desalination facilities or renegotiating ancient water rights for agriculture) we have symbolic measures to limit Californians' energy use.

The one water tip that makes sense,

If it's Brown flush it down. Jerry is proving to be almost as incompetent as his predecessors - which is hard to do


ImJustABill April 29, 2015 @ 8:51 p.m.

Not that fighting global warming is a bad thing by itself. But thats a global issue and there is a water crisis in CA which Brown has done essentially nothing to address


Don Bauder April 30, 2015 @ 8:07 a.m.

ImJustABill: Climate change and the water crisis are problems that are linked. The consequences of both separately and combined are scary. Poiticians, including Brown, have been dancing around both crises. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder April 30, 2015 @ 8:02 a.m.

ImJustABill: So who would address these possible looming woes more thoroughly than the Brown that you have flushed? Meg Whitman? Best, Don Bauder


Twister April 29, 2015 @ 4:56 p.m.

The common, arrogant delusion that "it can't happen to US!"

Our "leaders" are a bunch of ostriches. After every serious fire, the standard statements are "This was SO unexpected!"

It ain't rocket science, folks--infinite demand upon a finite supply is not excusable ignorance, it is the definition of stupidity.


Don Bauder April 29, 2015 @ 8:10 p.m.

Twister: That is an excellent analogy. After fires, San Diego goes right back to doing what it was doing. Then, surprise, another one comes along.

The fires will be worse if San Diego has a shortage of water. Best, Don Bauder


Stuffmpx March 9, 2018 @ 4:25 p.m.

Danfogel, others ; what do you make of the entreprneur, who claims he can solve the water crisis at the SS, by simply and much less expensively when comared to Gov proposals, dig a ditch from the Baja Sea of Cortez to the SS ? High tide in the sea would easily run “up” to the SS... Feasible ? Crazy ? Thanks...


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