The shrinking of the Salton Sea has led to increased air pollution in nearby communities, affecting disadvantaged populations disproportionately. This phenomenon has been studied in-depth by researchers, shedding light on the environmental and health consequences of reduced water diversions into California’s largest lake.

Historical Background

The Salton Sea, formed in 1905 by an overflow of the Colorado River, has historically been fed by water runoff from agricultural operations. However, as water demands in California grew, water diversions reduced the flow into the Salton Sea. This reduction in inflow led to an increase in salt content in the lake, causing harm to wildlife habitats and resulting in localized air pollution.

Researchers utilized a particle transport model to analyze the effects of changing water diversions on particulate pollution in the region. The study found that fine particulate matter, which can lead to asthma and respiratory issues, was associated with higher air pollution readings in disadvantaged communities near the Salton Sea. This increase in pollution was observed after water diversions to the lake were reduced, primarily to transfer water to urban areas like San Diego.


To assess the impact of changing water flows on air pollution, researchers divided the lake’s shoreline into grids and collected air pollution data over a span of 20 years. They incorporated information about the exposed lakebed, wind patterns, and particle size into their analysis using a sophisticated physics model. By mapping pollution paths from the exposed lakebed to nearby communities, researchers were able to visualize the movement of dust particles and its effects on air quality.

The findings of the study highlight the need for policymakers and regulators to consider the health and environmental impacts of water diversions. The drying up of the Salton Sea has significant health consequences, particularly for disadvantaged populations who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. Policies that address these environmental justice concerns are crucial in mitigating the negative outcomes of shrinking water bodies like the Salton Sea.

The research paper emphasizes the importance of understanding the environmental repercussions of water management decisions. The shrinking of the Salton Sea has led to increased air pollution in nearby communities, particularly affecting disadvantaged populations. By taking into account the health implications of reduced water flows, policymakers can make more informed decisions to protect the well-being of all residents living in the vicinity of the Salton Sea.


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