Death and Politics in the Great American Water Wars
September 14, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

LA : What's that smell? The Salton Sea!

previously, previously, and previously
posted by Afroblanco (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Makes this article from earlier in the summer all the more hilarious.

More on Travertine Point.

Great post.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:21 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


My somewhat crazy idea to save the Sea, or at least extend its lifetime by a few years: just run a pipe into the thing from the ocean. It's below sea level, and its salinity is already higher than that of the Pacific. As long as you could keep the pipe from fowling (probably impossible, but I said this was crazy) you could keep the thing topped up indefinitely, albeit at super high salinity levels.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh Aizkolari, you and your crazy pipe dreams.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:28 AM on September 14, 2012 [44 favorites]


My somewhat crazy idea to save the Sea, or at least extend its lifetime by a few years: just run a pipe into the thing from the ocean. It's below sea level, and its salinity is already higher than that of the Pacific.

I think the problem with piping in seawater is that even though it's less saline than the water that's currently in the "sea" it's a hell of a lot saltier than whatever waters naturally flow into the sea. You'd have a temporary reduction in salinity, and then as the waters evaporated away, a massive spike in salinity--because there's no way to extract all the salt you've just added to the system.
posted by yoink at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, the poor stinky, salty Salton Sea. It's such a strange, otherworldly sort of place.
posted by rtha at 10:37 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


At least once a year, a "what's that mystery smell?" story does the news rounds here in L.A. While the Salton Sea is a possible culprit, I think that the recent spike in warm weather makes standing water in all the local storm drains a more likely suspect. Which smell pretty much the same. The timing with the storms is probably coincidental, along with the recent earthquakes, which some also seem to blame the smell on.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


At least once a year, a "what's that mystery smell?" story does the news rounds here in L.A.

Oh, LA, you try to allure me so, and yet you always fail!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's an odd thing that we think the Salton Sea needs saving since it was created by human error in the first place.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:42 AM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


the problem with piping in seawater is that even though it's less saline than the water that's currently in the "sea" it's a hell of a lot saltier than whatever waters naturally flow into the sea.

According to the Wired article linked to, the reason the Salton Sea is salty at all is because what little run-off it gets is salinated waste water from the surrounding farms. I don't know if sea water is as salty or less salty than the waste run-off, but I don't think there's much difference. Which, of course, isn't to say that pumping sea water into it is a good solution, only that it might not differ as much as you think from 'whatever waters naturally flow into the sea'.
posted by carsonb at 10:43 AM on September 14, 2012


Are we completely sure it's not Axe body spray?
posted by tommasz at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


According to the Wired article linked to, the reason the Salton Sea is salty at all is because what little run-off it gets is salinated waste water from the surrounding farms.

Salt builds up in all lakes which do not have an outlet (see e.g. the Great Salt Lake), because there are naturally occurring salts in the soil etc. But this is a slow process of accretion and concentration via evaporation. Farmwater runoff is unlikely to be highly saline--certainly very unlikely to be as saline as the sea. Try to imagine the effect it would have on a farm's crops if you were irrigating them with seawater.

But you're right to (implicitly) quibble with my word "naturally"--"naturally" the area's basically dry. I should have said "the water that drains into the sea in any case."
posted by yoink at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2012


OK, here's another crazy idea: how many meters does a cubic meter of seawater need to fall in order to generate enough energy through a turbine to desalinate itself?

Rough estimate: probably a lot more than the 69 meter drop from the Pacific to the Salton Sea.

OK I did some math and looked on wikipedia: 273.57 meters.

.66 kcal = 2761 joules per liter (minimum to desalinate 1L of seawater)

2761 / (9.8 (g) * 1.03 (mass of 1L of seawater)) = 273 meters

Death Valley is not even close at -83. Oh well.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's an odd thing that we think the Salton Sea needs saving since it was created by human error in the first place.

That was my thought too. It could lose 4 to 6 feet per year? Send the runoff elsewhere, and let it evaporate completely.
posted by yath at 10:52 AM on September 14, 2012


And that assumes 100% conversion of gravitational potential energy and 100% efficient desalination.

I feel like the guy in this thread
posted by Aizkolari at 10:54 AM on September 14, 2012


Send the runoff elsewhere, and let it evaporate completely.

According to the article, the resulting dust could decimate a good chunk of SoCal. Apparently, they have similar problems around the Aral Sea.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hm. Consistent year-round sunlight and a constant influx of agricultural runoff? My vote is for seeding it with organisms (plants, uni- or multicellular, probably have to be GM) that take up useful chemicals, which we could skim and reuse. If we're going to overuse chemicals -- and we shouldn't be in the first place -- in agriculture, we actually should be capturing them rather than letting them run into the ocean causing algae blooms, red tides and widespread anoxic conditions.

So this isn't so much a problem as an inadvertent local application of half of a solution. Sequestering the runoff is the first half. Figuring out what to do with it is the other half.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


it was created by human error in the first place.

But that human error only filled a prehistoric lake bed. It's basically a chicken/egg thing that depends on where the Colorado feels like going.
posted by LionIndex at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


urgh, I thought the smell was people had gone totally nuts with fertilizer
posted by Bwithh at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2012


The dust storm I experienced in my one, brief visit to the Sea was impressive in its utterly opaque dustiness (here's a not-very-good photo I took as the storm was beginning to get close to where we were).
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on September 14, 2012


That's a great idea, Aizkolari.

How about pumping your water up to 300 meters or whatever it takes, then let it fall through the turbines to power the desalination plant?

Use windmills to power your sea water pump...
posted by notyou at 11:16 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear Saltin Sea and I think two things:

1) Best not nominated for an Oscar performance (Vincent D'onofrio as Pooh Bear) ever

2) Coolest fake tattoo ever (Danny/Tom's)
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


NJ: What's that smell? Pennsylvania!
posted by not_on_display at 11:19 AM on September 14, 2012


Whoops. Link to dusty photo.
posted by rtha at 11:21 AM on September 14, 2012


Runoff from agricultural areas can be saline if salts are accumulating in the soil from the evaporation of irrigation water, which is exactly what happens in arid agricultural areas like southern California.
posted by mollweide at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's an odd thing that we think the Salton Sea needs saving since it was created by human error in the first place.

Birds.

The whole central valley used to be a gigantic seasonal wetland on the scale of the Planet Earth episode where Richard Attenborough intones "and finally the rains come...." 22,000 sq miles of seasonally inundated forests, grasslands, lakes and vernal pools. Pronghorn, elk, grizzlies roamed.1,100 square miles of tules and marsh in the Delta alone. All essentially drained and completely destroyed between 1930 and 1960.

The Colorado River Delta was one if the largest desert estuaries in the world. Fresh and brackish wetlands coveted 3000 square miles. There were Jaguar, beaver, deer and abundant fish and waterfowl. As recently as the 1930s and some of it hung on till they filled Powell in the 60s. Now its about 150 square miles and mostly invasive tamarisk. The River frequently doesn't reach the ocean.

Not to mention the LA River and all the other smaller wetlands destroyed to accommodate development. Again, since the 1930s. There are people still alive who saw CA as it was.

So having drained that shit right the hell up The Salton Sea is the largest area left for migratory and overwintering birds. A puddle of salty, toxic runoff sure, but its all they have left.
posted by fshgrl at 11:54 AM on September 14, 2012 [29 favorites]


Notyou, we could use fans to produce wind to make sure the windmills turn 24-7 and the fans could be powered by solar arrays.

[It's like a Rube Goldberg contraption for idiots like me!]
posted by Seamus at 11:58 AM on September 14, 2012


The Sea itself is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from LA, and is worth checking out if you're interested in unusual ecosystems, ghost towns and/or fringe societies.

If you ever plan on going, don't bother circumnavigating the whole thing. My GF and I did the 376 mile drive around it this summer, and the western and southern shorelines just have too much space between anything (but there is the Bono Wildlife Refuge, for you birders).

The northern and eastern areas, though, have some fascinating places clustered realtively close together: the Recreation Park; the abandoned Marina; Bombay Beach; and just to the east, outsider art project Salvation Mountain and a few miles further out, the squatter collective town Slab City.

And I find you get used to the fishkill smell after awhile. But maybe I'm an exception.
posted by joechip at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]



At least once a year, a "what's that mystery smell?" story does the news rounds here in L.A.

Look for the other article about a large cocaine bust.
posted by srboisvert at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2012


The northern and eastern areas, though, have some fascinating places clustered realtively close together: the Recreation Park; the abandoned Marina; Bombay Beach; and just to the east, outsider art project Salvation Mountain and a few miles further out, the squatter collective town Slab City.

Seconded, I visit the sites around that 'just north of Mexico' wasteland scene every year or two, there is a surreal quality there unlike any other place I know, I haven't read Stephen King's Dark Tower series but whenever I hear about it I imagine it taking place out there in the desert.

Last time I was there you could still get a burger and a beer at the Ski Inn in Bombay Beach but I would be surprised if I still can the next time.
posted by Cosine at 12:19 PM on September 14, 2012


NJ: What's that smell? Pennsylvania!

How the worm has turned!

At least once a year, a "what's that mystery smell?" story does the news rounds here in L.A.

Sometimes, East Coast mysteries smell like pancakes.
posted by zamboni at 12:27 PM on September 14, 2012


The Salton Sea is such a bizarre place, I did a bike tour through the area and there were all these cheery informational signs with titles like "What is that smell?" and "Why is the beach covered in thousands of dead fish?" detailing our several decade long collective fuckup with the entire area. It was actually pretty fascinating.

Apparently birds that eat diseased fish from the water sometimes explode mid-air. I just posted a couple of photos from the trip over here if anyone enjoys looking at fluorescent algae and dead fish.
posted by bradbane at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forget it, Sonny. It's Chinatown.
posted by tigrefacile at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we're going to overuse chemicals -- and we shouldn't be in the first place -- in agriculture, we actually should be capturing them rather than letting them run into the ocean causing algae blooms, red tides and widespread anoxic conditions.

The Salton Sea doesn't drain to the ocean. Like approx 20% of the Earth surface its an endorheric basin with water leaving the catchment VIA evaporation and seepage, not overland flow.

Like Vegas, what happens in the Imperial Valley, stays in the Imperial Valley. So says gravity.
posted by fshgrl at 12:52 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still, doesn't George Spigott's suggestion have some merit? I love the Salton Sea and will be so sad if it disappears/gets drained/gets subject to some other cockamamie scheme.
posted by queensissy at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2012


On my trip to the Salton Sea, I was down by the Marina and one other guy there was remarking the dry crusty surface and said it was from saltwater evaporating. I said no, look closer. It was bones and scales from dead fish.

The whole Travertine Point idea seems like whoever came up with it has never been to Salton City. It's cheap to lay out roads but nobody wants to live there, so it's all just urban planning Nazca lines.
posted by ckape at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2012


Still, doesn't George Spigott's suggestion have some merit? I love the Salton Sea and will be so sad if it disappears/gets drained/gets subject to some other cockamamie scheme.
posted by queensissy at 12:57 PM on 9/14


Sure. Except the things that remove fertilizers and prevent eutrophication and dead zones are called wetlands and floodplains and we killed them all.
posted by fshgrl at 1:34 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Except the things that remove fertilizers and prevent eutrophication and dead zones are called wetlands and floodplains and we killed them all.

You could turn those former wetlands and floodplains into a massive phytoremediation tree farm of unprecedented size. A couple thousand square miles of identical genetically engineered and cloned poplar and willow plantations would look neat from outer space, and might provide enough wood pulp to meet LA's paper needs for at least a week or two.
posted by Forktine at 1:46 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And thus the great US empire is defined...
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:48 PM on September 14, 2012


And thus the great US empire is defined...

The truly American way would be to give the project to Halliburton as a no-bid contract and sit back and watch as they rack up change orders and cost overruns. If it worked for Iraq, it's guaranteed to work in California, right?
posted by Forktine at 1:55 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assumed that would be the case to be honest. Really I did. Only thing we're forgetting is some sort of ballot initiative war wedged in there somewhere.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:58 PM on September 14, 2012


Forktine, you could just let it turn back into wetlands and accomplish the same thing a lot easier and better and help some endangered species while you're at it Except it might piss off the farmers making a lot of money off that land. Salad bowl of the US and all.

Imperial Valley water politics are something else. You couldn't pay me enough money to stick my hand into that fire. And given that they were advertising for over a year for someone to run the water district a while back I'm guessing a lot of people agree with me.
posted by fshgrl at 1:59 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Forktine, you could just let it turn back into wetlands and accomplish the same thing a lot easier and better and help some endangered species while you're at it

I hope I didn't sound like I was serious. Well, except for the no-bid contract -- I'd happily be a part of that and retire before I was 45.
posted by Forktine at 2:02 PM on September 14, 2012


The sad thing is that I took you seriously because that's the kind of insane proposal I hear all the time.

I guess the farmfields are providing some bioremediation! Yuck.
posted by fshgrl at 2:12 PM on September 14, 2012


I used to go water skiing on the Salton Sea, and we either made a game of swerving to avoid all the dead fish on the surface or swerving to hit them, I don't remember. I was around 10, and I vividly remember wondering why the hell you would bring a group of church kids to the most obviously god-forsaken hellscape in California when Lake Elsinore or Lake Perris (and a few other lakes) were just as close... good lakes that you could actually enjoy being in, and which contained normal, living fish.

I also remember that the bed of the lake felt exactly like what I imagined raw sewage would feel like on your feet, and smelled the same.

I kind of want to go back as an adult, though.
posted by Huck500 at 3:18 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you've not seen the documentary Plagues & Pleasures On The Salton Sea [trailer only, although it is available to watch through veoh, if you're so inclined], I recommend it. It's an interesting slice of lives taking place in one of the forgotten corners of our country. (Narrated by John Waters!)
posted by hippybear at 4:42 PM on September 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


fshgirl, did you even read the entire comment you responded to here? The only way you could get the idea that I was saying that the Salton Sea drains to the ocean is if you only read the sentence fragment you quoted. I was making an observation about a potential advantage to the fact that it does not drain to the ocean, and seriously, I don't see how it's even possible to miss that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2012


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