California’s Salton Sea

July 05, 2016


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Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

Southern California’s inland Salton Sea — which is not part of an ocean or, by some definitions, a sea at all — is often described as an accidental lake. This is because its current incarnation was born just over a century ago, when the downstream flow of the Colorado River rushed into the low and desert-dry Salton Sink after canals and dikes, built to help irrigate new croplands, failed during a 1905 flood and its aftermath. Anciently a delta of the Colorado, which now flows farther to the east and south toward the Gulf of California, the Salton basin — 234 feet (71 m) below sea level at its lowest point, and sitting smack upon the San Andreas Fault — has since sporadically hosted large rift lakes. The lakes contained fresh water at times, and were saline at others, for they were endorheic or terminal, lacking an outlet, as is true today. The current lake, about 115 miles northeast of San Diego, is California’s largest in area covered, spanning about 375 square miles (971 square km). Other, deeper California lakes are larger by volume.

By the mid-20th century, resorts and small towns were being developed along the desert lake’s shores. Fish have occasionally multiplied in the few streams and canals that still feed the lake, and it has become a significant refuge for migrating and resident birds, including brown and American White Pelicans, shown in the photograph above, taken on May 4, 2016, along the receding shore off Salton City. The Colorado River was successfully redirected soon after the canal disaster, so, due to evaporation and drought, and lacking major in-flowing rivers, today’s Salton Sea is in decline, becoming more polluted and saline every year (it is saltier than the ocean) and, by many measurements, an environmental disaster. Once-promising shoreline villages, too, are deteriorating. Tourist havens have closed, buildings and homes have been vandalized, and marinas dried up, as illustrated in a second photograph. Revitalization efforts are under way, however, for both the lake and the area’s economy, under the aegis of the multi-agency Salton Sea Authority.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Lens: Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS APO HSM; Focal Length: 270mm (35mm equivalent: 405mm); Aperture: ƒ/8.0; Exposure Time: 0.0020 s (1/500); ISO equiv: 100; Bottom - same except: Lens: AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G; Focal Length: 18mm (35mm equivalent: 27mm); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; Exposure Time: 0.0025 s (1/400); ISO equiv: 400.