Saving the Salton Sea is not high on the list of California's priorities.

For one thing, the manmade lake should never have existed in the first place: In 1905, the Colorado River gushed into the desert, transforming a large, barren depression into a self-contained lake.

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Now, more than a century later, the sea is drying up—and its restoration would cost $9 billion. It's unlikely that the state, suffering from a fourth year of historic drought, would dedicate so much money to saving an accidental lake. But if the Salton Sea disappears, the results could be dire.

During a visit to the Salton Sea, Fusion's Tim Pool spoke to experts about the importance of the lake to the local ecosystem. Wildlife biologist Tom Anderson told Pool that 420 species of birds have been documented at Salton Sea. The exposed riverbank makes it easier for prey to reach them, putting some species at risk of extinction, he explained. Plus, the Salton Sea has become an important stopping point for many species of migratory birds.

The Salton Sea's drying up also poses another problem: If the water disappears, the remaining riverbed would be salty and dry. Wind would blow salty, contaminated dust into the air — and already has in the areas where the riverbed is exposed. As a result, nearby Imperial County treats more children with asthma than any other county in California. Aide Fulton, who directs the Imperial Valley Asthma Program, said three children have died over the past three years from the respiratory illness. "Once this sea dries out," she said,"you're going to have a lot of people getting sick."

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Nine billion may be a tall order, but it's clear something must be done. Watch the video above for our full report.

Video Credits:
Camera/Producer: Valerie Bischoff
Video Editor: Laurie Thomas

Tim Pool is director of media innovation at Fusion, and a mobile and technology specialist covering conflict, crisis, and internet culture on the ground and online.

Valerie Bischoff is a writer/director/preditor at Fusion. She has directed for MTV, Nike and continues to be driven by an insatiable curiosity.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.