The Salton Basin comprises one of the most diverse collections of plants and animals in North America, principally due to its extreme topography and climates. From searing tropical desert bajadas (shallow slopes at the base of rocky hills) to icy alpine summits, habitats change dramatically in very short distances. As elevation increases, the cooler temperatures support different species.
The sea is located on the Pacific Flyway, and 400 different species of birds have been counted at the Salton Sea--almost half of the 900 species known to exist on the North American Continent. During winter migration up to four million individual birds are estimated to use the Sea each day. There is a greater species variety and more individual species here than any other place in the nation.
The story of the Salton Sea begins millions of years ago, at the convergence of three massive tectonic plates. Mountains and valleys emerged from the intersection of the Pacific Plate, Farallon Plate, and North American Plate. Over the past few million years, changing global climate and the flow of water has shaped the Salton Basin and its environs. Today, the Basin is one of the most topographically diverse regions in the world, and is home to an extraordinarily diverse range of plants and animals.
The Salton Sea is at a crossroads. Among the immediate concerns, rising salinity, if continued unchecked, will ultimately make the Sea unable to support existing fish species. Without a plentiful food supply at the Salton Sea, no amount of wetland habitat will sustain the Sea's current role as a vital stopover for migratory birds in North America. As the already-scarce water supplies of the American Southwest are strained to meet the needs of a burgeoning population, we face increasingly difficult decisions on managing our declining wetland habitats and the valuable water that sustains them. In the context of massive habitat loss elsewhere, and the continued escalation in demand for water resources, the future of the Salton Sea is of vital importance for both wildlife and growing human populations.
An array of different proposals has been made in the interest of restoring the Salton Sea. While some offer solutions for single issues facing the Basin, scientists and researchers hope to adopt a more complete plan that will encompass all five of the current restoration goals. Regardless of which alternatives or combination of alternatives are put into action, it will be important to “maintain the Sea as a repository for agricultural drainage, provide a safe environment for birds and endangered species, restore the recreational uses of the Sea, maintain a viable sport fishery, enhance the Sea to provide economic development” (CE, 19), and stabilize the water’s salinity level.