California's $70 Billion Salton Sea Crisis
California's largest lake, the Salton Sea, has become a ticking time bomb for the state of California.
The lake was originally formed in 1905 when terrific flooding occured from a break in a Colorado River irrigation canal.
For 18 months the river flowed into the lake unimpeded and eventually covered about 350 square miles creating the largest lake in the state.
At first, the lake was viewed as a tourist "miracle". Developers talked about a resort destination that would eventually overtake nearby Palm Springs.
Resorts and condos sprouted on the shores of the Salton Sea like weeds and an in-land "Sea Paradise" was born.
For decades the fun didn't stop.
The Beach Boys anchored their boat at a well-known shore town Bombay Beach, and Frank Sinatra could be seen mingling among its visitors.
However, the lake has no natural intake of fresh water.
And in addition, the lake lays hundreds of feet below the sea level creating a natural drain for the southeastern portion of California and the nearby agriculture run-offs from bordering farms.
By the 1970's the visitors started to dissipate.
The natural in flow of salt and chemicals from nearby agricultural run-off mixed with the constant drying up of the lake have created a health hazard.
Gone are the days of Bombay Beach's fun in the sun, today it looks like scenes from a science fiction movie.
The sea shore at Bombay Beach is barely recognizable.
Abandoned towns everywhere.
However as you move a few miles inland from the lake, towns aren't abandoned.
The residents there are getting sick from breathing in all of the chemicals in the dried up lake bed that are now being blown around Imperial, County California in constant dust storms.
At nearby Westmoreland High School, 17% of the student body suffers from asthma
Schools have started installing air monitors on their roof so that they can alert their student bodies on poor air quality days.
Shohreh Farzan, a professor of preventive medicine at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine said “Other researchers have detected toxic metals in samples... If this is happening, breathing that metal-laden dust could be particularly toxic.”
Local politicians don't seem to care about the very poor areas that are being currently affected, the dust storms keep increasing in frequency.
Local Congressman Sony Bono campaigned for federal assistance and even brought then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich to make a speech on the shores of Salton Sea.
But, the Congressman's untimely death in 1995 brought that campaign to an end.
Now, what little water inflow from the Colorado River the Salton Sea has been receiving will be diverted under a municipal plan to sell the county's water to San Diego.
Over the next 30 years another 100 square miles of lake bed will become barren and expose ever more toxic gases.
One day when the winds were blowing, the stench of the Salton Sea, think rotten eggs, hit the city of Los Angeles, making the entire city stink.
Curbed LA, made a map of the smell.
If California doesn't come up with a solution soon, the asthma epidemic will continue and the cost of cleanup will skyrocket to as high as $70 Billion according to the Pacific Institute's 2014 paper on the Salton Sea crisis.
Written & Edited by Alexander Fleiss
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