The Salton Sea Initiative

Director: Dr. Timothy Bradley
Initiative Funding Period: December 2013 – December 2016

The UCI Salton Sea Initiative was created to tackle the complex problems present at the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland body of water located on the border of Riverside and Imperial counties.

The Salton Sea represents a slow-moving environmental, public health, and economic disaster for California. The Salton Sea has grown more saline over the years, 1.7 times that of the ocean, due to agriculture runoff and water evaporation. On windy days, the surrounding salt flats give rise to clouds of salty, alkaline dust that affects the health of hundreds of thousands of residents of the Coachella and Imperial Valleys. The dust contains fine particles which can lodge in the lungs producing emphysema, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.

The Salton Sea is adjacent to the Imperial Valley, an agricultural powerhouse, producing 80% of all winter vegetables grown in the US. It is also home to hundreds of thousands of birds, including endangered bird species protected by the Migratory Bird Act.

The Problem: Due to previously established water agreements, water will be withdrawn from the Imperial Valley and sent to more urban water districts. As a result of these withdrawals, the Salton Sea will shrink rapidly, leaving behind dry beaches referred to as playa. These will be a source of highly toxic dust affecting the health of hundreds of thousands of Californians living in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.

Future Plans

The Salton Sea Initiative ended in Spring 2017. Dr. Bradley’s research continues, however, and is supported by the School of Biological Sciences with additional funding from donations and grants.