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Can You Swim in the Salton Sea in 2023? (Is It Safe?)

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The Salton Sea is not an ideal body of water to swim in for two main reasons: it is shrinking rapidly, and its waters are considered toxic. This manmade body of water is located east of San Diego, California, and was once a popular swimming place, but not anymore. 

In this article, you will learn why the Salton Sea is not a safe swimming area, about a time when the Salton Sea was a go-to swimming hole, and whether it’s against the law to swim in the Salton Sea today.

Is the Salton Sea Safe to Swim In?

The Salton Sea is not safe to swim in due to the plethora of toxic elements in its waters such as arsenic, phosphorus, and selenium. Lithium is another commonly found compound in the muds around the Salton Sea and while good for batteries, it’s not the best for the human body.

All of these toxins are increasing in concentration within the waters of the Sea as well because the Sea is drying up. This manmade waterbody was created when water from the Colorado River poured into the Salton Sink by accident and formed a 400 square mile lake. 

Drainage from farms in the Imperial Valley kept the water levels stable but also dumped massive amounts of chemicals from fertilizer into it. High amounts of hydrogen sulfide, low oxygen, and high salinity also cause dangerously toxic conditions for anyone who might desire to swim in the Salton Sea.

There’s no mistake saying, California needs to take measures because the Salton Sea is in a bad condition and San Francisco Bay of Western California is also moving in a bad direction due to trash & toxic materials going through storm drains.

Read Also: Can You Swim After Getting Ears Pierced? 

What If I Swim In Salton Sea Today?

So, you know it is not safe to swim in the Salton Sea however, you’ve allowed your imagination to ask what if I swim then let me hold your hand and take you from imagination to reality.

But first consider these facts about arsenic, phosphorus, lithium, and selenium as they are present and increasing in concentration in the Salton sea.

Drinking Arsenic: According to WHO (World Health Organisation) arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form. Period. (that comes due to factories, fertilizers, and chemical dump) If you drink contaminated water it poses a great threat to public health. And even scarier, long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking water and food can cause Skin Cancer and Skin Lesions.

Phosphorus is good and bad: According to U.S. Geological Survey, phosphorus is a good thing to be present in seas, rivers, and lakes as it is an essential element for plant life. Though, if the percentage is high in the water then it can hasten the Eutrophication of rivers and lakes. Eutrophication means a reduction in dissolved oxygen in water bodies due to excessive mineral and organic nutrients.

Due to the phosphorus coming from sewage, farms, and industry in the Salton sea, a high amount of algae bloom develops and nourishes over time.

Now USGS says After the algae die, the decay process needs oxygen and the decay of large units of Algae can leave “dead zones” that stands for low oxygen area where fish can’t survive. If phosphorus is ingested (trust me during swimming in Salton sea it is nearly impossible to not sip some drops) can lead to flu-like symptoms in humans and death in pets.

Selenium risks in Salton sea: According to Alberta Health Services (AHS) Selenium is required at low levels but exposure to selenium for a long time in water sources like sea and river can cause hair loss, brittle nails, and neurological problems.

Now tell me, can you imagine what can happen to you when you’ll drink some of Salton sea even by accident that contains arsenic, phosphorus, and other harmful chemicals. I don’t think you’ll need my help on this.

Read Also: Can You Swim In Wailua Falls, Hawaii? (Read This First!)

When Was Swimming in the Salton Sea Safe?

In the early to mid-1900s, the Salton Sea was a hotspot destination for tourists. Beachfront resorts built up and the Salton Sea became a vacation for locals and visitors alike. Swimming in the Salton Sea was as enticing as swimming in the Pacific Ocean – more so even since there were no sharks or jellyfish to watch out for. 

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the agricultural runoff began to affect the water quality noticeably and the salinity started to skyrocket. Dying wildlife was a huge clue and by the late 1970s, the surrounding resort area was abandoned. No one was swimming in the Salton Sea by the start of 1980. 

Is It Illegal to Swim in the Salton Sea?

There is no legal restriction from swimming in the Salton Sea so you won’t get arrested if you tried, but you may end up in the hospital at some point. The toxins from the water should be a good enough deterrent from swimming in the Salton Sea, but if you have your heart set on it, the cops won’t stop you. 


While no laws are stating that you can’t swim in the Salton Sea, the question is whether you should. Due to agricultural runoff dumping various chemicals into the water body and its rapid evaporation, the Salton Sea is not an ideal place to swim even though it was a popular place to be back in the 1950s. 

I tried to keep things precise and answer in-depth whether it is ideal or not to swim in the Salton Sea. Please feel free to share the link to this post with anyone who might be wondering about swimming in the Salton sea.

Read Also: Can You Swim In Crater Lake? (What Are The Dangers?)

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Sunday 5th of February 2023

So, if the the Salton Sea was a hotspot in the mid-1990s, and agricultural runoff began in the 1970s, then the lake becomes no mans land in the 1980s. How did the lake become a hotspot in the 1990s?


Monday 6th of February 2023

Sorry, but you read it wrong; it was written that in the early to mid-1900s, it was a hotspot for tourists, not the 1990s. Hope it clears up your concerns.

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