HOME ON THE STRANGE: IN SEARCH OF THE SALTON SEA

2009, 2010, 2015

I first visited the Salton Sea in 2006 returning annually. For those who have chosen to make this their home this is their sanctuary. Like the sea, these communities have been forgotten, yet they continue to band together and persevere in spite of the odds stacked against them.

Accidentally created by the engineers of the California Development Company in 1905, the Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault. The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Southern California.  The largest lake in California, The Salton Sea's salinity is greater than that of the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The Sea had some success as a resort area in the 1950s however, from 1970, the Salton Sea began to shrink, leading to a surge in salinity and a reduction in depth which ended its days as a fishing and boating haven. Many of the settlements have substantially decreased in size or have been abandoned.

The sea provides habitat to some four hundred and thirty species of birds, some of them endangered, and is one of the last significant wetlands remaining on the migratory path between Alaska and Central America. Every year, the north shore of the Salton Sea is diminished, partly because of drought and partly because of the sale of Colorado River water to coastal areas. The migrating pelicans and grebes  have fewer fish to eat as the shallow water disappears. The dust from desiccated shallows blows into the air and is easily inhaled by local children, whose asthma rates lead the state.

The nonprofit Pacific Institute estimates that the surface area of the 350-square-mile lake will shrink 100 square miles by 2030, salinity will triple over 15 years, and fish will disappear in seven years without intervention.

Home on the Strange: in Search of the Salton Sea By Amy Sather Smith/Deborah Martin Amazon Books