Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Day at the Salton Sea

From the day I first heard its story, I've been fascinated with the Salton Sea, the man-made oasis-turned-tragedy just south of Palm Springs, CA. What was once a vacation getaway for Southern California residents is now a dying system, the unintentional paradise having become known for devastating algae blooms, fish die-offs resulting in millions of rotting fish carcases, and once unpredictable water levels that have destroyed most man-made structures that once hugged the shoreline. According to some very optimistic people, it could be poised to make a comeback. As I prepared for my trip to the body of water once dubbed the 'California Riviera,' I wondered what I would find. Would I be greeted by the amazing views and peaceful tranquility that the Salton Sea Authority says still exist, or will I arrive to find millions of dead and rotting fish in a waterlogged wasteland that few outsiders chose to visit?

I discovered a sad and beautiful place. From the right angles, the Salton Sea whispered haunted poetry of its glory days long ago, but turn your head slightly and the rancid truth comes crashing down, your nose being the victim of an all out assault trouped by the legions of fish rotting quietly along the shore. Sometimes the smell would give them away. Other times, legions of houseflies eagerly announced your arrival upon the next 'school' of fish. Following along the shoreline, you'd sometimes see in the distance beaches of a beautiful porcelain white, beaches more reminiscent of the Florida gulf coast than most that California has to offer. But closer inspection yeilds a grim truth - that's no sand. The sun may have bleached them, and the weather may have broken them into millions of little pieces, but step in the wrong spot and you could find yourself knee-deep in the bones of fish from long ago. At least here the flies and the smell had had their way and moved on to fresher kill.

Just down the road from the Ace and Spades, there was of place of greater tragedy. That buildings should crumble in this deserted wasteland could be expected, but the state park, with its freshly blacktopped parking area and clean, well maintained facilities, looked like a bride standing at the altar, hoping beyond hope that her groom who just said 'no' would suddenly have a change of heart and coming running back down the aisle to reclaim his eternal love.

One could imagine just a few years ago the excitement of the place, the parking lots full of boatloads of fishermen eagerly awaiting launch into the fertile waters, kids playing along the shoreline. The place would have been an oasis nestled in the Imperial Valley. The reality of today is that the buildings not laid to waste by the salty brine of the lake have become victims to neglect. They have died; there was no grace.

Can the Salton Sea be saved? Probably. Will it? Probably not. The problems don't seem insurmountable, but they do seem expensive, and that may be its biggest problem.

More information:

Everybody's favorite knowledge base

The Salton Sea Authority

The Redlands Institute

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (a documentary)


Emma said...

Yeah, but the meth labs in the neighborhood are pretty impressive..!

Emma said...

Also, forgot to say: my brother does indeed still own a parcel of land out there. Interested..?

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