Shrinking Salton Sea is Delaying a Catastrophic Earthquake, Study Finds

For years, environmentalists and public health advocates have called for restoration of the Salton Sea. At their urging, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act contained funding for an agreement to accelerate aquatic restoration efforts. But a new study says the barren lake may actually be staving off a major earthquake. And filling the Salton Sea too quickly could spell disaster for the L.A. Metro area. 

The study was published this month in the journal Nature by scientists at San Diego State University and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The researchers sought to explain why the southern part of the San Andreas fault hasn’t produced a major earthquake in 300 years.

This portion “actually poses the largest seismic hazard in all of California because it could severely damage the Los Angeles metropolitan area,” the study’s lead author Ryley G. Hill told the Los Angeles Times. But the lack of water, which has wreaked environmental havoc on surrounding communities, has also reduced pressure on the fault. 

“I would be personally worried that a rapid filling of the Salton Sea might trigger an earthquake. That would worry me,” Hill explained to KQED.

That earthquake could hit 7.8 on the Richter scale, resulting in 1,800 deaths and nearly 50,000 injuries — most of them in L.A. County. 

Read the study here.