California hit by rise in salt and dust storms

Not only the Middle East and parts of Asia can expect a rise in dust and sand storms, but in the USA the problem has arisen too.

The Salton Sea is an inland saline lake in the Sonoran Desert of extreme southeastern California. Since 1905 it occupies the Salton Basin, a remnant of prehistoric Lake Cahuilla. The Salton Sea was filled with water because the Colorado River breached a man-made canal. For birds, the accidental creation of the Salton Sea came at just the right time – just as humans began wiping out the last wetland habitats throughout California.
Now, failed water management and a persistent drought has caused a recession of California's largest lake (almost 1000 square kilometers) and is exposing a lake bed saturated with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other toxins. By the end of 2017, the shrinking will accelerate under terms of state-backed water transfer from this agricultural area to coastal San Diego.

More than 100 square miles of toxic salt flat could be uncovered in the coming decades. Scientists estimates that by 2045, the lake bed could be putting 100 tons of dust per day into the air. Particulate concentrations peak in wind storms that regularly create dangerous dust bowls.

That dust is dangerous because it can penetrate deep into the lungs. It will make breathing even more difficult in an area whose air quality already ranks among the nation's worst because of dust from farms and desert.

It's a "really salty dust, it burns your eyes," says a resident. "It only lasts for 15 to 20 minutes. But it's the longest 15 to 20 minutes of your life if you are standing in it." Winds carry that dust toward some 650,000 people.

Already the salt and the dust are exacerbating the already high asthma rates in the region.

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