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Monitoring Salton Sea Water Quality

Coachella Valley, California

Featured image for the project, Monitoring Salton Sea Water Quality

Image by Circ OD from Pixabay


The origin of the current Salton Sea traces back to 1905, when Colorado River water breached an irrigation canal and spilled into the Salton Sink. Since then, the Salton Sea has been fed by agricultural runoff and outflows from local rivers such as the New River, Alamo River and Whitewater River. In 2003, the Quantification Settlement Agreement between the Imperial Irrigation District, the San Diego Water Quality Control Board, and other government entities, agreed to divert water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego County, reducing the inflow available to the Salton Sea and causing the Sea’s water volume to begin shrinking. From 2003 to 2017, mitigation water (105,000 acre-feet) was allocated to the Salton Sea, abating the dropping sea level. However, the Salton Sea surface area has been rapidly declining since mitigation water ceased to be allocated to the region in 2017, altering the water properties of the Sea, exposing miles of dry playa, and contributing to a public health crisis. The Salton Sea has been classified as an impaired body of water by the US EPA and the California State Water Resources Control Board.

Harmful aerosols containing contaminants from the impaired Salton Sea water surface and recently exposed dry playa pose a public health threat to the surrounding community. In the northern Imperial Valley, over 22% of children were reported as suffering from asthma, a stark contrast to the 8.4% national average (Farzan et al., 2019). Other potential health effects reported by community residents are skin rashes and chronic nosebleeds in children. This public health burden falls mostly on non-White communities who live around the Salton Sea shoreline in either Imperial County or Riverside County. As of 2019, the Imperial County community is 85% Latinx, and 25% of the total Imperial County population lives below the poverty line, over double the national poverty average (US Census Bureau, 2019). Although a Dust Suppression Plan is proposed by Californian government agencies to contain some of the exposed playa, publicly available Salton Sea water quality measurements are lacking.

To our knowledge, water quality measurements have been taken in limited areas of the Salton Sea by the Audubon Society, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and scientists at University of California, Riverside. The Salton Sea community, led by Alianza Coachella Valley, is planning to initialize a water monitoring pilot project to fill the void of publicly-available water quality measurements from the Salton Sea. Most recently, Alianza Coachella Valley has been involved in community projects on Salton Sea land mapping, air quality, and water infrastructure (


The Project

The main objectives of this project are to (1) design a pilot project, led by the community, to monitor the Salton Sea water quality, (2) help the community gather the necessary skill sets to continue the water quality monitoring program into the future, and (3) outline the connection between the variables being measured and potential health risks in the community with the aim to use this information to shape advocacy efforts and implementation projects at the Salton Sea. To accomplish these goals, we must develop a water sampling scheme that captures the predominant Salton Sea parameters as a function of time and space, train the community in water sampling strategies, effectively analyze and share the data with the community, and develop connections between the Salton Sea parameters, weather patterns, and community health. The priority is to ensure that the community can sustain this water monitoring program themselves in a way that informs the public and stakeholders on the Salton Sea water quality status.


Project outputs:

  1. A report that documents the sampling methodology and sampling scheme in a way that can be replicated as a long-term water sampling program.
  2. A data processing code that can read the data, quality-control the data, and produce useful analysis and parameters that may be shared with the community via an accessible website.
  3. Presentations at community meetings on the water monitoring program and how the data can connect to existing weather and health patterns. The presentations should spark the interest of community members and motivate them to engage or join the program.
  4. Recommendations for future measurements, analyses, and interpretations for advocacy work.

In developing a community-led water quality monitoring project, the community builds the tools and gathers the necessary information to further contribute to city council meetings and public comments on future projects affecting the Salton Sea.



Stage Month Description Cost
Pre-Pilot February-June 2021 Internally pilot the program, and develop training curriculum
Program Implementation June-September 2021 Create a cohort and train 5 members of the community to carry on the sampling and analysis.
Report September-December 2021 Create a report, and assess opportunities for


February 2021: Purchase equipment

March 2021: Pre-Pilot Stage: Begin test sampling at a few limited locations (2) near the northern end of the Salton Sea shoreline.

March-May 2021: Pre-Pilot Stage: Develop sampling guidelines with a robust sampling scheme that can be replicated for a long-term project. Expand the sampling. Develop a hybrid training curriculum. Develop the appropriate code to read, process, and analyze the data. Repeat the sampling scheme and
adjust as deemed necessary.

May 2021-June 2021: Organize the data output in a way that is accessible for the community.

June 2021: Outreach and assess if we can launch the project in person or virtually

July-September 2021: Program Implementation: Create a cohort and train 5 members of the community to carry on the sampling and analysis. Provide a certificate of completion.

September 2021-December 2021: Create a short preliminary report on the success of the pilot project, preliminary findings and any patterns that come up. Present to the community.



Farzan, S. F., Razafy, M., Eckel, S. P., Olmedo, L., Bejarano, E., & Johnston, J. E. (2019). Assessment of Respiratory Health Symptoms and Asthma in Children near a Drying Saline Lake. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(20), 3828.

U.S. Census Bureau (2019). American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from Census Reporter Profile page for Imperial County, CA

About the Community

Patricia Leal-Gutiérrez: Program Manager for Alianza Coachella Valley
As part of the staff for Alianza Coachella Valley, Patricia will be representing the Coachella Valley community, gathering input across community meetings, and facilitating the integration of community members into the proposed water monitoring pilot project. Alianza Coachella Valley will take the lead in ensuring that community interests are a priority, recruiting and compensating
community volunteers virtually, hosting the project data output on the organization’s website, and facilitating the exchange of knowledge between the community and the scientist.

Ryan Sinclair: Associate Professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health
Ryan will be heading the fieldwork aspect of the project. As an assistant professor at Loma Linda University, Ryan has access to the necessary lab space and equipment for analyzing the data collected throughout the pilot project. Ryan will promptly begin collecting preliminary samples at accessible locations along the Salton Sea, such that we can begin assessing and responding to any problems that arise. Ryan recently collaborated with Alianza Coachella Valley (specifically, Patricia), in a community science project that employed high resolution cameras to map the shrinking Salton Sea surface area. Patricia and Ryan will both bring forth their gained experience from said community project.

Project Team

Community Leads

Patricia Leal-Gutiérrez: Program Manager for Alianza Coachella Valley

Ryan Sinclair: Associate Professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health

(Photos and biographies coming soon!)


Community Science Fellow

Isabella Arzeno Soltero

Isabella was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She received her Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from UCSD, where her work focused on the interaction between oscillatory flow and bathymetry. Isabella is currently a postdoctoral scholar at UCI, working on a model for tropical seaweed farming. She is an active route leader for Border Angels and a member of the Detention Resistance collective. Isabella is excited to work with Alianza Coachella Valley on studying the Salton Sea.