Timothy N. Forsman
The taming of the American West, and the utilization of its great rivers, led to an era of unparalleled prosperity and growth for the Nation. However, the era of the endless frontier has long since passed, and today, conflicts over vital water rights in the West continue to intensify. Because river systems cannot furnish an unlimited supply, demand will eventually outpace supply. The first casualties of a growing water shortage are already emerging, and the Salton Sea (“the Sea”) is among the first to bear the brunt of this shortage.
Without further intervention, the Sea will become one of the largest ecological disasters in modern American history. Beginning in 2017 the Sea will lose up to 23% of its incoming water supply, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the Sea’s size and depth, and a sharp increase in salinity and pollutant concentrations. The ecological deterioration of the Sea is on a trajectory that will create significant negative externalities. Likely impacts include increased health problems for California residents, destruction of critical habitat and wildlife, ongoing liabilities to the California government, and harmful impacts on the economy of California and the southwestern United States. Each of these potential impact areas will be examined in this paper.