RE: Salton Sea

Jim Whitehead (
Sun, 14 Jun 1998 09:21:55 -0700

Joe Barrera issued these bits on Saturday, June 13, 1998:

> Tahoe is beautiful. The Salton Sea is really really gross. There are dead
> fish and zillions of fish scales covering the shore. It smells like salt
> (and dead fish). And of course it's pretty much surrounded by
> desert and the occasional trailer park. Other than that, it's great :-)

Well, everything Joe Barrera says is true, but I still like the Salton Sea.
Since the Salton Sea is nestled between two mountain ridges, it is really
nice around sunset, with the sun setting behind one set of mountains, and
coloring the other set. The "sea" evaporates enough water to soften the
features of the farther mountain range.

There is a really nice national bird sanctuary at one end of the Salton
Sea -- good enough that tour buses stop there to let people see. Here's one
picture of migrating pelicans that helps explain why:

Also, I'm always amazed to see the extent of agriculture going on in the
middle of the desert -- there is nothing so green as an irrigated field next
to raw desert. I like the desert a lot, but there is an emotional pull to
seeing green, growing, productive earth where plants like that have no
reason to grow. It gives a lot of insight into why farmers plant and
irrigate in the desert, despite the fact it isn't sustainable, and the soil
salinity levels just keep increasing year after year.

Also, while many major ecological distasters aren't visible (there was
nothing visible at Love Canal, and its hard to see the absence of buffalo,
or carrier pigeons), the Salton Sea is still visible evidence of one of
America's greatest ecological screw-ups of the 20th century, right up there
with the dust bowl. As a report titled "Salton Sea Water Management," from
the California Dept. of Water Resources
<> states:

"The present-day Salton Sea was formed in 1905, when Colorado River water
flowed through a break in a canal that had been constructed in Mexico to
divert the river's flow to agricultural lands in the Imperial Valley. Until
that break was repaired in 1907, the full flow of the river was diverted
into the Salton Sink."

This account neglects to mention how the owners of the Southern Pacific, in
an effort not to lose a major rail line which is now at the bottom of the
Salton Sea, tried mightily to stop the flow of water pouring in from the

One of the few things which mitigates our blame for this disaster is the
fact the lake has appeared and reappeared through geologic time:

"Within geologic time the Colorado River's course has altered several times.
At times, the river discharged to the Gulf of California as it does today.
At other times it flowed into the Salton Sink. Lake Cahuilla, the most
recent of several prehistoric lakes to have occupied the Salton Sink, dried
up some 300 years ago."

Still, it's pretty awe-inspiring to look at the lake and know it was created
by a man-made accident.

Some other tidbits I found researching the bits of this post:

A picture of the Salton Sea taken by Apollo 7:

For a very bullish view of the Salton Sea, there's no better source that the
Salton Sea State Recreation Area web site, at:

This site explains why the sea is good for fishing:

"There is no legal limit to the number of tilapia that can be taken; after a
day at the park fishers generally leave with at least 100 tilapia in the 1-
to 3-pound range."

..And for boating

"The lake is known as the fastest in the nation because its salt content
(slightly greater than the Pacific Ocean) causes vessels to be more buoyant.
And at 228 feet below sea level, its high atmospheric density (because of
the low elevation) causes engines to perform much more powerfully than on
other lakes."

- Jim