Mexico and the Salton Sea

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So far, this blog has discussed extensively the ecological and socio-economic consequences of allowing the Salton Sea to dry up. The decline in the air quality around the Salton Sea due to exposed playa is a problem that will extend to many cities in the southwestern U.S., the economic burden of allowing the Sea to dry will be shared among all Californians, and water allocations that impact the Sea are decided by intra-state agreements. Without a doubt, the Salton Sea is a complex system that must involve not only the local communities, but also different states and even nations. An important player that has largely been left out of discussions thus far is our neighbor to the south, Mexico.

In order to employ effective solutions for the many problems that affect the Salton Sea, it is important to consider Mexico and Mexican citizens’ perspective. Recently, Assembly Bill 965 was signed into law and creates opportunity for future collaborations with Mexico for watershed restoration projects along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Signs along the New River as it enters Calexico from Mexicali. Obtained from UT San Diego



However, the relationship between Mexico and the Salton Sea goes back many decades. The city of Mexicali disposes of their treated wastewater into the New River, and this water has been part of the life support inflows to the Salton Sea from the south. The quality of this water was not a high priority until the late 1990s, when Mexicali decided to take measures to improve the quality of water being disposed into the New River [1]. Clearly, these efforts have been of direct benefit to the Salton Sea water quality and ecosystem health.


At the same time, Mexico and the U.S. have always shared allocations of Colorado River water, as shown above. Since 1944, Mexicali has received 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year. However, allocations of Colorado River water have not been reformed to match the rapidly increasing population in Mexicali, or any other southern California city. This has left local governments in Mexico and the U.S. to pursue other sources of water, such as groundwater [2]. The groundwater in Mexicali is directly connected to infiltrations of the Colorado River and the All American Canal. With new proposals to expand the concrete lining along the All American Canal, the ground water supply of Mexicali will be severely reduced. In this case, Mexico would have to consider alternative solutions for providing water to its increasing population, which could affect the flow of the New River and ultimately the Salton Sea.

Improved communications with Mexico are necessary when making decisions in the U.S. that may affect Mexican citizens, including the important decisions surrounding the future of the Salton Sea. The Sea is less than 100 miles from the border, meaning that Mexico shares not only the public and environmental health risks of exposed playa, but also the responsibility and interest in pursuing sustainable solutions to the region’s water challenges.

Written by Miguel Garcia

[1] Comision Estatal de Servicios Publicos de Mexicali.

[2] The U.S.-Mexican Border Environment: Binational Water Management Planning. Southwest Center for Environmental Research and Policy. SCERP Monograph, no. 8.

3 thoughts on “Mexico and the Salton Sea”

  1. Great article. I represent hundreds, if not thousands of residents at the Sea that have been left out of the decision making process. The vast majority of them say lets go now for water from Mexico for a long- term, sustainable solution that will keep water in the region for generations to come. Due to the cast geothermal resources, there is also a way to desalinate incoming icean water, using geothermal excess waste steam to create a truly renewable and endless water supply (about half the price than on the pacific coast) for our food, people and then Sea.
    A pilot project is currently working:
    There are also great options for seawater farming with things like various salicornia and mangrove to create a sustainable, cleansing industry on both sides of the border along a seawater inflow source.
    So happy to see your group sharing this information, with or without desal.



    1. Hi Kerry,

      Thanks for your comment! We appreciate your continued interest and support in the future of the Salton Sea, and hope that you keep an open mind about what future restoration options might look like.
      Regardless, it is important to remain actively engaged with the residents of the Salton Sea region, locally and in Mexico, along the way. Glad to hear that Save Our Sea has been doing so!


  2. I wish you had talked to the Counsel of Mexico, or at least someone (maybe Sup. Kelly of Imperial County could have pointed someone out for you to contact) who could have given you real politic on the current thinking of Mexican leaders.

    This topic was a very good idea for a post, though.


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