Voice: Save those shallow areas!

November 16, 2001

Cliff Hurley has a point about the shallow northern and southern ends of the Salton Sea being responsible for a large amount of evaporation relative to the volume of water stored there (I.V, Press, Monday).

Unfortunately, hydrologic balance is only one factor we need to consider when entertaining the idea of "eliminating" these areas.

These shallow water areas are the most productive parts of the sea with respect to the "little critters" so important as food for fish and birds. This has been documented by a team led by San Diego State University biologist Dr. Deborah Dexter in a soon-to-be-published study.

They found that during the warmer half of the year (May-November) abundance of the pileworm and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates was essentially zero at depths greater than 9 to 12 feet. During this time these invertebrates are prevented from occupying most of the sea's bottom because oxygen is lacking or in too low concentrations in deeper waters.


Furthermore, poor oxygen conditions occur even in the surface waters periodically in summer. So fish also are strongly concentrated in the shallow parts of the sea during that season — oxygen levels and food supplies are simply better there.

Basically these shallow water areas are important habitat because the wind mixes the whole water column more easily and more frequently than it can do this in deeper water.

This understanding — so critical to proper evaluation of engineering schemes such as those proposed by Mr. Hurley — is one fruit of the what he refers to as the "disjointed, incremental and muddling-through" program of studies overseen by the Salton Sea Authority.

Finally, the idea that "For over 50 years, departments of the universities have ‘waxed fat' studying the Salton Sea" is simply false. We have waxed mighty thin, at least as far as funding for biological studies go.

For the four decades between completion of the intensive UCLA/Cal Fish and Game studies in 1956 and the initiation of Salton Sea Authority-sponsored studies in 1998, it is unlikely there was more than $100,000 made available to universities for studies of Salton Sea biology.


Director, Center for Inland Waters

San Diego State University

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