, Volume 473, Issue 1-3, pp 23-45

Chemical evolution of the Salton Sea, California: nutrient and selenium dynamics

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Abstract

The Salton Sea is a 1000-km2 terminal lake located in the desert area of southeastern California. This saline (∼44 000 mg l−1 dissolved solids) lake started as fresh water in 1905–07 by accidental flooding of the Colorado River, and it is maintained by agricultural runoff of irrigation water diverted from the Colorado River. The Salton Sea and surrounding wetlands have recently acquired substantial ecological importance because of the death of large numbers of birds and fish, and the establishment of a program to restore the health of the Sea. In this report, we present new data on the salinity and concentration of selected chemicals in the Salton Sea water, porewater and sediments, emphasizing the constituents of concern: nutrients (N and P), Se and salinity. Chemical profiles from a Salton Sea core estimated to have a sedimentation rate of 2.3 mm yr−1 show increasing concentrations of OC, N, and P in younger sediment that are believed to reflect increasing eutrophication of the lake. Porewater profiles from two locations in the Sea show that diffusion from bottom sediment is only a minor source of nutrients to the overlying water as compared to irrigation water inputs. Although loss of N and Se by microbial-mediated volatilization is possible, comparison of selected element concentrations in river inputs and water and sediments from the Salton Sea indicates that most of the N (from fertilizer) and virtually all of the Se (delivered in irrigation water from the Colorado River) discharged to the Sea still reside within its bottom sediment. Laboratory simulation on mixtures of sediment and water from the Salton Sea suggest that sediment is a potential source of N and Se to the water column under aerobic conditions. Hence, it is important that any engineered changes made to the Salton Sea for remediation or for transfer of water out of the basin do not result in remobilization of nutrients and Se from the bottom sediment into the overlying water.