Salton Sea: Apocalypse Now
The Salton Sea, 35 miles long and 15 miles wide with a surface of about 380 square miles is California's largest lake, located in the Colorado Desert, Southern California. At 227 feet below sea level, it is often called a "man-made accidental lake" because it was created when the Colorado River burst through poorly built irrigation systems of Yuma, Arizona due to heavy rainfall and the series of floods filled the Salton Basin in 1905. During the 1960s, the Salton Sea was famous as an oasis in the desert and becomes a posh resort filled with Hollywood celebrities. The lake, however, has no outlets. So, gradually constant variations in agricultural runoff had caused flooding of surrounding communities and the agricultural inflows which are rich with nutrients from fertilizer runoff and pesticides keep the lake's saline level unusually high and have caused harmful algal blooms (1). Both residents and visitors have started to disappear from the lake. As a result, today, visitor numbers are in steady decline and it is 37 percent saltier than the Pacific Ocean and has frequent widespread algal booms especially during summer. There is smelly heaps of dead tilapia which is a prolific breeder and resilient to high salinity, imported from Africa during the 1970s and ghost towns on the shore scattered everywhere. "You can swim there, but you have to wash your body thoroughly after swimming," warned Virginia Forgea (63), one of the few longtime residents of the Salton Sea's Bombay Beach.
In fact, the Salton Sea's almost apocalyptic vision (2) contradicts the fact that the lake is becoming increasingly important for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway because over 92% of the wetlands in California have disappeared. Over 400 species, nearly half of all North American bird species, have been recorded in the area. It is both tragic and ironic that one man's nightmare becomes another species' paradise.
(1) Since water conservation and transfer agreements between San Diego and the Imperial Valley in October 2003 which provided an additional 277,700 acre-feet of water annually to the San Diego region from the Colorald River, the Sea has become saltier than ever. The lake's salinity is increasing by about 1 percent annually.
(2) From 1944-55, B-29s from the U.S Army’s Squadron, commanded by Lt.Col.Paul Tibbets made regular but highly secret bombing practices into the Salton Sea as well. On Aug.6, 1945, Tibbets and his crew in the Enola Gay, dropped the first Atomic Bomb over Hiroshima, Japan.