Salton Sea: The Fight To Save A California Desert Miracle [PHOTOS]

 @JaceyFortin
on April 25 2012 4:20 PM
  • Salton Sea
  • Salton Sea Boat
    A boat stuck in the ground next to the Marina on the west coast of the Salton Sea.
  • Salton Sea Birds
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel bag up dead pelicans from the Salton Sea in their airboat. Reuters/David McNew
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The Salton Sea is disappearing at an astounding rate, and some environmentalists are fighting the uphill battle for a timely restoration.

Salton Sea is California's largest body of water that doesn't border the ocean. It is technically a lake, although it is large enough to look like a sea. It is also saline -- in fact, its salinity is quickly increasing, which hastens the lake's disappearance.

The lake was created accidentally in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded the area, filling a low-lying basin. It has become a major stop for migratory birds that travel along the Pacific Flyway, and it has been commemorated with the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

And it's not just flora and fauna; during the 1950s and '60s, the Salton Sea was a popular resort for vacationers and nature lovers. Tourism has died off and development has dropped since the 1970s, but plenty of ardent fishers and birdwatchers still frequent the spot.

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A boat stuck in the ground next to the Marina on the west coast of the Salton Sea.

The lake, which is surrounded by desert, is replenished by water run-off from farms in the area. Not only is that run-off insufficient to keep the Salton Sea from disappearing; it's also full of salt and toxic contaminants. As the so-called Miracle in the Desert shrinks and its salinity rises, many birds and fish are dying off. The Salton Sea was once a hotspot for biological diversity, but now its shores are littered with fish and bird carcasses.

A small village once blossomed on the shores of Salton Sea, but the area is going through tough times. Its inhabitants now face one of the highest unemployment rates in the United States.

Worst of all, their health could be endangered if the Salton Sea dries up. Beneath the lake is a seabed full of toxic runoff, something nobody wants to inhale. California's Imperial County is a land of strong winds, loose soil and frequent dust storms; a dried-up Salton Sea has great potential to spoil the air quality of the entire region.

Civilians and local politicians are fighting to do something about the lake's imminent demise, but the going has been tough. California had a plan to restore Salton Sea in 2003, but the initiative took a backseat at the onset of the recession. Now, supporters hope to bypass government roadblocks by putting the restoration under control of private organizations like the Salton Sea Authority; their plan can be read here.

For the concerned residents -- not to mention the voiceless birds, fish and flora that rely on the Salton Sea for existence -- this matter is an urgent one. If nothing is done, the Salton Sea will continue depleting until the once-thriving desert miracle becomes nothing more than a vast and toxic wasteland. 

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel bag up dead pelicans from the Salton Sea in their airboat. Reuters/David McNew

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