UCI Professor and Water UCI affiliate Timothy Bradley has released two new reports highlighting issues surrounding California’s Salton Sea.  

Smiling man.


The Salton Sea is one of the most important and productive avian feeding sites on the
Pacific Flyway. The Sea has been maintained for the past 110 years by runoff from agricultural
fields irrigated with water from the Colorado River. In January 2018, mitigation water which
has been flowing to the Sea to maintain its level and salinity will be diverted, causing the Sea to
shrink in volume and increase in salinity. These changes will eliminate fish from the Sea,
causing, in turn, serious negative consequences for multiple species of fish-eating birds. These
negative consequences will reverberate across bird populations in both North and South
America. Beginning in 2018, the Salton Sea will shift from a system in which fish are the
trophic level on which birds feed, to one in which birds feed on invertebrates (Figure 1). The
presence of brine shrimp and brine flies grazing intensely on algae, will promote a deeper photic
and aerobic zone. This may have profound positive effects on tourism at the Sea, but will also
pose challenges for toxic selenium management in the ecosystem.

Wetlands and salt lakes in the arid West are shrinking and or disappearing due to drought
and water diversions. The ecological transition of the Salton Sea therefore has increasingly
profound implications for continent-wide avian populations and communities. It will be
essential that managers and regulators responsible for the Sea promote the establishment of brine
shrimp and brine flies in order to exclude more noxious species. In addition, care must be taken
to monitor and control selenium levels to protect the millions of migratory birds that feed at the
Sea. Finally, great care must be taken to reduce the emission of dust from the newly formed
playa, to avoid a public health catastrophe similar to, but far more extensive than, that at Owen’s

The reports are available for download here:

Water UCI White Paper

Salton Sea Management Plan Selenium Issues