Douglas Barnum-Keynote

Salton Sea Science Office

U.S. Geological Survey


Dr. Barnum has degrees from the University of Missouri, Washington State University and a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University in wildlife biology and range management.   He also completed a post-doctoral research assignment with University of California-Davis.  Prior to his current Salton Sea assignment with the US Geological Survey, Dr. Barnum worked for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS as a research wildlife biologist principally on wildlife interactions with agricultural drainage water in California’s Central Valley, and livestock/endangered species relationships. 

Dr. Barnum has been involved in research at the Salton Sea since 1990, and since 2000, has worked at the USGS Salton Sea Science Office now based in Palm Springs.  He has been responsible for scientific oversight and coordination of Salton Sea science issues, has organized and chaired numerous special-topic workshops; published peer reviewed scientific articles, was the principal editor of the 2000 Salton Sea Symposium Proceedings, and was co-organizer of the 2005 Salton Sea Symposium.  He co-authored the USGS report on Monitoring and Assessment Needs of the Salton Sea Ecosystem published in 2013.  Most recently he organized a workshop of science experts titled “State of the Salton Sea: Science and monitoring needs for the future” and the results of that workshop will be published soon.  Dr. Barnum serves on numerous scientific technical advisory committees as an independent expert.

Title: Salton Sea and the Great Salt Lake - Challenges and Tipping Points

Keynote 8:10am - Thursday, May 12

Abstract: The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, is home to more than 424 species of migratory birds, several of which are of conservation concern.  The Great Salt Lake is one of the largest saline lakes in the world and one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in North America.  Both lakes have been subject to intense scientific interest for decades due to degradation from increasing salinity, diversion of inflows, and selenium inputs. Challenges faced by both lakes and many other saline lakes are remarkably similar.   At the 2010 and 2012 GSL Issues Forum Bob Jellison pointed out that saline lakes comprise >45% of all inland waters and many of these are vital to migratory birds.  Throughout the world places such as the Aral Sea, (Central Asia) Owens Lake (California), Lake Abert (Oregon), Great Salt Lake (Utah), Salton Sea (California), Lake Urmia (Iran), Turpan Basin and Qinghai Lake (China), Dead Sea (Israel/Jordan) are all terminal basins where engineered diversions of freshwater inflows have caused lake levels to decline.  These declining lakes levels are associated with the loss of important migratory bird habitat, decimated fisheries, diminishing biological diversity and increasing fugitive dust emissions from playa exposure.   The Great Salt Lake and Salton Sea ecosystems represent the two largest inland saline lakes by surface area in North America, second and third by volume, first and third by salinity.  These two lakes are considered by many to be among the most important locations for migratory birds in Western North America, particularly in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts and arid Great Basin.  Water diversions from both lakes are resulting in declining inflows, increasing exposed playa and increasing salinity, with related ecosystem effects.  At the Salton Sea, despite a nearly two decade science program designed to assist in the development of a comprehensive management plan, “Restoration” of the Salton Sea is no closer to a reality.  A provision of the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) which delivers mitigation water to offset effects of a water transfer expires at the end of 2017.   At this time inflows will decline precipitously with far reaching ramifications on Salton Sea ecological sustainability, migratory birds, fugitive dust emissions, and human health.   Subsequent increasing salinity will eliminate a once vibrant fishery which has supported millions of migratory birds.  If nothing is done, within 50 years increasing salinity will eliminate most biota and the lake will shrink to a fraction of its current size.  Similarly, the Great Salt Lake has incurred a number of events affecting the lake level and salinity so that today the lake is 11 to 14 feet below its natural level (Wurstbaugh et al 2016).  Additional water diversion are anticipated which will likely affect lake salinity, a salinity already near the upper limit for brine shrimp reproduction and sustainability.

Migratory bird linkages to and between the Great Salt Lake and the Salton Sea and points beyond are numerous and complex.  Saline lakes provide resources and habitat for migratory birds which cannot be met by small fragmented freshwater wetlands of the arid Western US.  Without protection of the biological viability of these two important saline lakes, the potential loss of biological productivity, whether by increasing salinity or through complete desiccation, has far reaching implications for migratory bird populations.