Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Thomas Andrews

Second Advisor

Fred Anderson

Third Advisor

Abby Hickcox


The Salton Sea is a large, man-made body of water in Southern California. It was formed completely by accident between 1905 and 1907 by a combination of poor irrigation engineering and massive winter flooding of the Colorado River. Though the sea had formed and disappeared several times before this, and was part of the local Cahuilla Indian oral tradition, initially its presence was believed to be temporary. Beginning in the early 1940s, as it became apparent that the sea was not going to disappear, real estate developers and agricultural industry began to exploit the sea and its surrounding land for economic gain. Beginning in the late 1960s, the booming tourism and resort communities that formed around the sea began to crumble, due to continued poor management and several environmental disasters that resulted in the shrinking of the sea and massive die-offs of fish and birds. Today, news media see the Salton Sea as an abandoned wasteland, while scientists and ecologists consider it a vital ecological landscape. The surrounding communities of Salton City and Bombay Beach are still inhabited, although the populations are small and the quality of housing is poor. Though there continue to be occasional die-offs, the sea still functions as a stopover for migratory birds. The Salton Sea was formed as the result of human error, greed, and ecological misunderstanding. Continuing intervention, rather than fixing or solving anything, has only exacerbated the environmental and human problems surrounding the sea. This thesis will show how misperceptions of the sea led to ineffective interventions and exploitation of resources, both of which resulted in the current devastation facing the sea today.