From a Luxury Getaway to a Toxic Ghost Town- What Happened to Salton Sea?
By Lauren Wong
How could a place that was sought out for its gorgeous beaches, drawing in celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Jerry Lewis, and the Marx Brothers turn from paradise to a toxic ghost town in a matter of a few years? To switch up the saying, Salton Sea went from riches to rags, and it all started as an accident.
The erratic history of Salton Sea began with its birth in 1905. A poorly-constructed irrigation system allowed water from the Colorado River to spill out, flowing into the Salton Sink. For two years this went on until the sea grew into a 400-square-mile body of water. In 1929 (according to the University of Redlands’ Salton Sea Atlas) more than 2,000 people gathered to watch as five world speedboat records were set. Additionally, it’s said that a 1951 regatta brought 21 world records.
In the 1950s the California Department of Fish and Game stocked the lake with fish, getting its name out there as an angler destination. In the 50s and 60s is when Salton Sea was booming as the place to be. The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club opened and was the largest marina in Southern California. This hotspot had a draw equal to that of Palm Springs.
Millions of tourists flocked to the area annually, bringing in more visitors than Yosemite National Park.
The Fall of the Salton Sea:
Everything started going downhill in the 1970s. The sea is considered an endorheic lake, meaning that there’s no natural outlet/no connection to other bodies of water. None of the water ever discharges into the ocean. Because of this, there was a massive increase in salinity. Today the sea has a salinity concentration that’s 50% greater than our oceans.
In addition to the rising salinity levels, the sea also endured shoreline flooding and constant fertilizer runoff from nearby farmers. In short, runoff changes the biological makeup of any body of water, causing it to have unsafe algal blooms, which in turn, surges bacterial levels.
Salton Sea Today:
Smelly and abandoned. Those are the two words that come to mind when I think of my time here. My whole trip down the east side of the sea, the smell followed. Because of the bacterial issues within the water, fish and bird populations have died off leaving some of the beaches littered with fish bones.
On one particular day there was a reported amount of 640 birds found dead because of a disease transmitted from infected fish.
Going to visit Salton Sea isn’t that tropical getaway it once was. (However, it’s a great place to add to your bucket list if you like urban exploring, plus there’s tons of photo ops). But to me, it was fascinating to look at the ghost town it’s become and picture all these celebrities catching some rays, relaxing on this now, very smelly beach.