photo by Oceloto (Flickr CC)

I first heard about the Salton Sea via a couple of documentaries focusing on pollution and economic collapse. One, VBS TV’s ‘TOXIC Imperial Valley’ shows the Salton Sea and surrounding area as a polluted wasteland populated by a few rugged individualists, stragglers and diehards. The millions of fish in the Salton Sea are dying off and the once playground for California’s rich and famous is now some kind of post-apocalypse Mad Max landscape dotted with abandoned tourist traps as well as a derelict military base. Honestly, it’s just the kind of thing that gets my imagination running.

But are things really that bad in Imperial Valley, California?

The Salton Sea was an accidental feat of ‘human engineering’ that occurred in 1900 when irrigation canals were diverted from the Colorado River in order to facilitate farming in the Salton Sink, a dried out lake bed and salt sink. For a while it was farmland, but increased snowmelt and heavy rainfall caused the Colorado to flood, eventually creating an accidental sea.

The Salton Sea was stocked with fish, which flourished, helping to make it a top tourist destination for Californians, who fished, camped and water-skied to their hearts’ content. It’s also warm in winter and has the picturesque Chocolate Mountains as a backdrop.

But the salinity increased, making it impossible for many species of fish to survive. Algae and plankton also increased, resulting in an unpleasant smell.

Now, as a part of the State of California’s budget cuts, the Salton Sea State Recreation Area is set to be closed – along with 60 other state parks in Riverside County alone.

Residents and enthusiasts who enjoy the Salton Sea oppose the closure plans, arguing the merits of the park as a bird sanctuary and claiming that the rumors of pollution are inaccurate.

Check out this piece in the Los Angeles Times for more and read about the campaign to save Salton Sea State Recreation Area here.