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Scientists Study Selenium Hazard in the Salton Sea Environment

November 5, 2020

In the past decade, Salton Sea water elevation has declined due to drought, lining of canals, and changes to management of the Colorado River. This has resulted in the creation of new wetlands caused by drains and rivers no longer reaching the Salton Sea.

Newly formed wetland that formed as the Salton Sea level lowers
Photo of newly formed wetland that has been formed as the Salton Sea level lowers.  Inset shows picture of an endangered Yuma Ridgeway’s Rail.

Because these wetlands are new, the effect and possible toxicity of levels of selenium and related metals, needs to be assessed. This study will help evaluate whether such wetlands are suitable for endangered aquatic and avian wildlife (fish and birds).

To address this need, California Water Science Center Water Quality Specialist Dr. Michael Rosen, working with Research Wildlife Biologist, Dr. Susan De La Cruz of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, along with others, will begin a study to determine our current knowledge of selenium concentrations and toxicity in the area around California’s Salton Sea.

In this study, scientists will examine past publications about selenium and the Salton Sea.  By surveying these data and looking for correlations and trends, they will determine what gaps exist. A new study will then be conducted to sample selenium and other trace element concentrations in water, sediment and wildlife. These data will help determine whether the wetlands are viable long-term habitats for perennial and migratory wildlife.

Learn more about this research>