The Salton Sea’s murky water reflects the haze and clouds above. It is California’s largest lake. In recent years, many have come to believe that it is a source of adverse health effects in surrounding communities. (Leo Cabral |Viewpoints)
Endless Tilapia bones and barnacle shells that vaguely resemble teeth blanket the shores of California’s greatest lake as a blanket of haze hovers above in the desert sky.
Even miles away from its beaches, the sulfuric odor that periodically emanates from the lake — a stench resembling the smell of rotten eggs — is inescapable.
The State Water Resources Control Board urged visitors to stay out of the murky, gray waters back in April when a dog died after taking a swim. The toxic algal bloom that killed the dog is just one of many problems the lake and its surrounding communities are facing.
The Salton Sea spans 30 miles from north to south and 10 miles from east to west. It sits on the border of Riverside and Imperial Counties in one of California’s most impoverished and neglected regions.
It has been shrinking for decades. Respiratory illness and chronic nosebleeds are rampant in the area, and concerned parents have connected the health issues to the toxic dust exposed as the water level drops.
But as post-apocalyptic as the Salton Sea might seem to outsiders, there is a proud and vibrant community living there — and they are not taking the issue lying down.
A potential paradise
William Porter, a UC Riverside atmospheric physicist, explains three possible scenarios for the future of the Salton Sea outlined in a report by the university’s task force studying the lake. He also explains other possible solutions and how another looming issue could impact the lake’s future. (Production by Leo Cabral | Viewpoints)
Scientists, community organizers and area residents discuss health disparities in the Eastern Coachella Valley. (Production by Angel Peña | Viewpoints)
This map highlights the distance between some of the surrounding communities and the lake.
Erik Galicia (He/Him)
Leo Cabral (They/Them)
Cheetara Piry (She/Her)
Angel Peña (He/Him)
This project was supported by California Humanities through the Democracy and Informed Citizen Emerging Journalist Fellowship Program. To learn more, please visit www.calhum.org.
Any views, finding, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of California Humanities.
“Salton Sea: An Oasis in Despair”
Produced by Erik Galicia, Angel Peña, Cheetara Piry & Leo Cabral
Videography & photography by Leo Cabral and Angel Peña
Story written by Erik Galicia
Website design & interview coordination by Cheetara Piry