Experimental Assessment of Technologies for Use in Restoring the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905-06 when a project designed to irrigate the Imperial Valley went awry and the Colorado River flowed into the Salton Sink for more than a year. The resultant sea, the largest lake in California, proved to be highly saline from the onset. Over time, it was stocked with a variety of marine organisms including popular game fish. The Salton Sea became an extremely popular fishing, boating, and recreation site by the mid twentieth century. It also became a vital feeding site for millions of birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. Unfortunately, over the years, the lake has steadily become more saline and the most valuable game fish in the lake have been lost. Recreational uses of the lake have dwindled, with resultant reductions in tourism and real estate values in the area surrounding the sea. Further concerns are increased toxic air pollution deriving from the surrounding, fast-growing salt flats, wide-spread die-offs of fish and birds, and the prospect of the creation of a highly saline sump which will be a further detriment to the residential values and recreational uses of the surrounding lands.

This project is to help restore the Salton Sea to a viable level of salinity through a process of salt harvesting and removal using a sequence of techniques involving: radial deionization, nanofiltration, and reverse osmosis. Saline byproducts resulting from desalination will be used as a source of commercially valuable salts and minerals, while the fresh water produced will be returned to the Sea. These processes will be used to lower the salt content of the lake to a level permitting re-establishment of the marine sport fishery. The harvesting of valuable salts and minerals will provide a long-term, stable industry for the area. Restoration and stabilization of the Sea will have vital implications for public health in this highly populated area. Local recreation and increased tourism will lead to higher property values, a stable tax base, increased employment, and multi-dimensional improvements in the quality of life for residents.

Project P.I.: 
Timothy J. Bradley (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), William J. Cooper (Civil and Environmental Engineering)