Salton Sea Solutions


In the tug-of-war of partisan politics, sometimes the independent voter can feel a bit neglected and left out of the political game. But California independent voters are starting to receive a lot more attention these days and much of that is due to the California Independent Voter Project (CAIVP).

A non-profit organization founded in 2006 by former Democratic state legislator Steve Peace and his former chief-of-staff Dan Howle, CAIVP is dedicated to engaging the Decline-to-State – or independent voters – in California’s policymaking process.

One way CAIVP engages independent voters is by providing them with useful information about their voting rights as well as important legislative issues. One such issue is what to do with the Salton Sea, a lake east of San Diego that over the past few decades has seen its grandeur as a vacation destination fade away.


One problem the Salton Sea faces is that its inflow of water is less than its evaporation rate, leaving behind salt deposits contaminated by chemicals accumulated over several decades. The problem of runoff from nearby farms and wastewater negatively impacts wildlife and makes the Salton Sea difficult to clean up.

However, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego scientists see a multi-part solution to restore this once thriving ecosystem. The plan can be implemented almost immediately with an anticipated long-term solution for the Salton Sea and added benefit to the region in the form of biofuels and feed for cattle. They believe algae, products from which are can produce the raw materials for fuel, can be grown on farmland around the Salton Sea.

Scripps professors Neal Driscoll and Greg Mitchell along with San Diego State University Professor Richard Gersberg, presented their proposal to help restore the Salton Sea at a recent privately funded CAIVP event in Maui, Hawaii that included both legislators and lobbyists.


The scientists proposed growing algae in the area because it requires less water for the same amount of protein per acre than other crops such as soy and alfalfa. As such, algae would diminish the amount of water required to produce feed and thus may increase the amount of flow back into the sea, possibly reducing the salinity. Another positive is that algae may also improve the quality of the water by oxidizing toxins.

“The infrastructure in the Salton Sea offers a great opportunity to explore algae as the solution because it could reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons and at the same time provide a more water efficient feed for livestock” said Driscoll, whose research indicates that the presence of the Salton Sea provides tectonic stability to the surrounding region by the sheer weight of its water. “California is a world leader in environmental issues and we need to be at the forefront of developing renewable energy sources while preserving sensitive habitats.”

Driscoll and his colleagues presented their research plan to lawmakers as an alternative strategy to an existing $8.9 billion state plan that attempts to address the needs of revamping the Salton Sea. The Scripps team believes, however, the existing mitigation plan doesn’t address some of the important problems facing the sea including air and water quality.


At the recent CAIVP conference, the Scripps algae research plan received positive bipartisan feedback and the researchers are committed to engaging additional state legislators and leveraging other resources to fund this vital restoration project.

“The CAIVP is a unique platform for us to present Scripps science that is important to lawmakers and the voting public who might not get to know about it so soon,” said Scripps Director Tony Haymet.  “We are thankful for this opportunity to highlight our algal biofuel research and bring forth ideas for redeveloping the Salton Sea.”


-- Caitlin Denham

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