Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Salton Sea and earthquakes?

No time to investigate, but fascinating.

Remember the Salton Sea?  Joseph E. Stevens, inHoover Dam tells that Charles Rockwood saw opportunity in diverting the Colorado River to irrigate the Imperial Valley.  (Today this is a major agricultural and metropolitan area just north of the Mexico border, and south of the Salton Sea.)  In 1901 they finished their canal, fed by a rickety headgate on the Colorado River, and the Imperial Valley began to bloom.  Yet after three years, the canal filled with silt, and the water supply to the Imperial Valley became a trickle.  
ImperialmapMap of the Imperial Valley and Salton Sea
Credit: USGS
To avoid interference from the U.S. government, Rockwood's company decided to create a new canal and breach the Colorado River bank inside Mexico.  They were desperate - money was drying up faster than the water, so they irresponsibly dug into the riverbank without a headgate.  All was well until the Colorado River had a large flood.  The soil gave way and the river began to experience a cutback.  After filling the Salton Sink, which to this day retains some of that water, the river began eroding back along its bank at a rate greater than one mile a day.  It had the potential to create another great canyon, and to permanently empty the Colorado into the desert, never to reach the sea again.  
The owner of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which had been profiting handsomely from the growth of the Imperial Valley was strongly encouraged by President Teddy Roosevelt to fix the problem.  It took a constant shuttle of freight cars carrying timber, rock, and other fill material to stop the cutback.  Only after two years was the Colorado River returned to its original channel and emptying into the Gulf of California.

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