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Friday, April 1, 2011

The Salton Sea - Transdisciplinary Design

The Salton Sea is a saline endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas fault in Southern California. In addition to rainfall and agricultural runoff, it is fed by the New, Whitewater and Alamo Rivers. Throughout history, the sea has alternately been a fresh or a salt water lake, depending on evaporative loss and the amount of rainfall and river flow. Today, the sea is saltier than the Pacific Ocean but not as salty as Utah’s Great Salt Lake. On the east side of the lake mud pots and mud volcanoes display evidence of the areas geothermal activity.

In the 1920s, the Salton Sea was a booming tourist destination attracting visitors interested in sunshine, recreational water activities and bird watching. Some say the area is the “crown jewel” of avian biodiversity. During prohibition the area offered an isolated location, acting as a discreet respite for the Hollywood party crowd. 

Today, with its lack of outflow, the Salton Sea has experienced a tremendous amount of environmental change over a relatively short period of time. Agricultural flooding of the surrounding area has resulted in increased salinity of the water due to salts, pesticides, fertilizers and selenium contained in the runoff. The higher salinity levels have caused the subsequent die off of fish. Algal blooms due to the increased salinity have resulted in elevated levels of bacteria. Headed for collapse, the sea has become a troublingly toxic ecological hotspot.

Many have proposed ways to save the Salton Sea, among them is Karla Rothstein (SR=T Architects). Rothstein along with a team dedicated to what is just now being referred to as “transdisciplinary design,” proposed transforming the Salton Sea by stopping it’s use as an agricultural reservoir and reconfiguring its coastline into industrial, recreational, and ecological zones. Her team designed floating pools within the body of water to capture a portion of the sea and regulate its salinity, returning it to a productive ecology. This project could be an economic catalyst for the long beleaguered area, renewing the region as an ecologically sound, interactive recreational destination.

For more on this topic, see 2004 Documentary film “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” John Waters, Sony Bono and Norm Niver.

The Salton Sea as it could be.

The Salton Sea today.

The Salton Sea as it once was.

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