Fish Bones and Game of Thrones

The Salton Sea: once a prized weekend destination, now a dilapidated afterthought in the middle of the desert. The Sea lost its appeal to many people after it became highly saline and oxygen-deprived from agricultural run-off. These conditions lead to massive fish kills that created shores composed of fish bones and seasonal pungent odors. Today, the fate of the Sea is uncertain. On its current trajectory, with the impending reduction of water due to the Quantification Settlement Agreement and with no plan to prevent its demise, the Salton Sea will become an ecological disaster and public health burden. Here at Salton Sea Sense we all agree that something needs to be done about the Salton Sea. However, there is a lot of debate about who should be stepping up to take responsibility to make the decision and to fund restoration projects. The problem is there are so many different parties involved in the Salton Sea that it is impossible to determine who is most affected by the Sea and its fish bone beaches.

You could say that keeping track of all the stakeholders in the Salton Sea is almost as confusing as trying to keep track of all the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In honor of the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, we give you: Game of Bones (cue theme song).

1Kings Landing (Policy Makers): Far to the north of the Salton Sea reside the all powerful policy makers of Sacramento. Here we find characters like Littlefinger (treasurer), Varys (lobbyists), and the King (governor); some are in charge of finding money for the throne, some decide what is best for the kingdom, and all want to spend the money. In Game of Bones there is little money or concern left for the Salton Sea after the policy makers have dealt with the other issues, especially the San Francisco Bay Delta and our severe drought.

2House Lannister (San Diego): In Game of Thrones, Lannister House is the House of Gold, in California, San Diego is one of the state’s gems, with beautiful beaches and a thriving city. San Diego is an active player in the Game of Bones because they want a lion’s share of the drinking water from the Colorado River and have the voting power to request it.

3House Tyrell (Agriculture): House Tyrell, led by the formidable Lady Olenna and her cunning granddaughter, Lady Margaery, is one of the most influential houses due to their great wealth and fertile lands. Much like House Tyrell, the farmers of the Imperial Valley are big players in the Game of Bones because they need the Colorado River water to keep the crops that feed the country growing strong.1

4House Martell (Mexico): Much like California’s geographic and political relationship with Mexico, House Martell reside in the country of Dorne, the southernmost region of the Seven Kingdoms. As a result of many injustices imparted by House’s Baratheon and Lannister, House Martell has little trust in the Iron Throne and the Dornish have avoided a larger political role. In Game of Bones, Mexico receives the remaining water at the end of the Colorado River and has its own irrigation and farming needs. There is not much communication from either side of the border, but the communication that does exist, is rife with tension.

5House Stark (Torres-Martinez Tribe): Much like the Torres Martinez Tribe, the members of House Stark are descended from the first men in Westeros. Much of the power of the House of Stark comes from their ability to survive in the harsh land and keep Winterfell warm and productive. The Torres Martinez people and their ancestors have survived in the harsh desert climate for thousands of years. In the Game of Bones they crave economic gains from developing the region.2

6House Tully (Imperial Irrigation District): House Tully rules over the Riverlands from the Red Fork of the Trident. With the motto: “Family, Duty, Honor”, and their vantage point on the River, the Tully’s are useful allies. The Imperial Irrigation District, with the motto “Where Water is King” plays an active role in Game of Bones by managing and conserving the Colorado River water for Southern California according to the Quantification Settlement Agreement.3

7House Frey (Coachella Valley Water District): House Frey is not one of the great families of Westeros, much to the resentment of Walder Frey, but they have a vital role in controlling the crossing for the Trident River. In Game of Bones, the Coachella Valley Water District plays an essential role in delivering irrigation and drinking water to the area between the San Gorgonio pass and the Salton Sea. Although they do not manage as large an area as the Imperial Irrigation District, they are faced with the challenge of bringing drinkable water to the drought-stricken desert.4

Free Cities (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah): The free cities beyond the narrow sea are independent cities-states with their own laws, governments and cultures. In the case of Braavos they can even hold the purse strings for the larger Westeros. The states that fall upstream of California along the Colorado River also have rights to the limited supply of Colorado River water, and are not held accountable to the QSA and other Californian laws. 

8Wildlings/Free Folk (Slab City): Mance Rayder, Ygritte, the Thenns, all the baddest characters from Westeros live North of the Wall. These people really understand what it means when “Winter is Coming”, they live in the harsh frozen tundra and live by their own rules. Just as the Wildlings prepare for winter, the residents of Slab City prepare for summer. These citizens live in some of the hottest conditions in the U.S., but similarly, they live off the grid.5

9The Night’s Watch (Us): The Night’s Watch pledge their life to guarding the Seven Kingdoms from peril North of the Wall. They take no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdom; their interests lie only in protecting the realm. We take no side, looking instead to protect the ecosystems the Salton Sea creates, prevent the health calamities that could result from the Sea drying, and promote the economic benefits the Sea could bring.

“…. and now our watch begins”

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  1. “Game of Thrones Wiki.” 2015. Accessed April 17.
  2. “Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.” n.d. Cultural History.
  3. “Imperial Irrigation District.” 2015. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  4. “Coachella Valley Water District.” 2015. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  5. “Slab City.” 2015. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
  6. “Saltonseadrainagemap” by Shannon – Background and river course data from and some topography from Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons –
  7. Earth, NASA’s Visible. 2009. “SeaWiFS: Gulf of California Dust Storm.” Collection. August 11.

One thought on “Fish Bones and Game of Thrones”

  1. As a person who struggled with the sciences(a D in biology led to summer school at “good old” floral park memorial high in 1966) I appreciate your creative technique in explaining a complicated geo-politcal and scientific issue.Not only are you an astute scientific mind but also an entertaining author.Well done.As a post script to my lack of science acumen,maybe the reason for a 32 year teaching career in social studies ?


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