Location: Bombay Beach, California [the Salton Sea] // Google Maps
Tanya and I are trying to get back on our old ‘at least once a month’ roadtrip schedule, and last week we went to the Salton Sea, which was a huge tourist destination but because of tons of pollution it’s now pretty much abandoned. Some really interesting photos came out of it.
The creation of the Salton Sea of today started in 1905, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell and breach an Imperial Valley dike. It took nearly two years to control the Colorado River’s flow into the formerly dry Salton Sink and stop the flooding. Once part of the vast inland sea which covered the area, the endorheic Salton Sink was the site of a major salt mining operation. As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Southern Pacific Railroad siding and Torres-Martinez Indian land were submerged. The sudden influx of water and the lack of any drainage from the basin resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea.
The lack of an outlet means that the Salton Sea is increasingly becoming an unstable system: variations in agricultural runoff cause fluctuations in water level (and flooding of surrounding communities in the 1950s and 1960s), and the relatively high salinity of the agricultural runoff feeding the Sea has resulting in an ever increasing level of salinity. By the 1960s, it was becoming apparent that the salinity of the Salton Sea was continuing to rise, jeopardizing some of the species living in it. The Salton Sea currently has a salinity exceeding 40â€° (parts per thousand), making it saltier than ocean water, and many species of fish are no longer able to survive in the Salton. It is believed that once the salinity surpasses 44â€°, only the tilapia will be able to survive. Fertilizer runoff combined with the increasing salinity and inflow of highly polluted water from the northward-flowing New River have resulted in large algal blooms and elevated bacteria levels. The New River is considered to be the single most polluted river in America.
The high level of bacteria resulting from fish die-offs are a major threat to the avian population. In 1992 and 1996 large scale die-offs of grebes and pelicans occurred, demonstrating the unstable nature of the ecosystem. The increasing salinity, algae, and bacteria levels have taken their toll on tourism, and many of the Salton Sea resorts are now closed and abandoned. Before recent water control measures were implemented, the Salton Sea’s surface tended to rise and fall severely, causing flooding problems in some of the surrounding communities.