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Salton Sea | Thermal Real Estate

Salton Sea

In the low desert of southeast California, the north end of Imperial Valley was once a vast salt pan, 250 feet below sea level, and subject to periodic flooding from the Colorado River that flows by 70 miles east, on the far side of a range of barren mountains. But following a particularly large flood in 1905 caused by collapse of a dike along the river south of Yuma, a breach not repaired until 1907, enough water had collected in the basin for the 35 by 15 mile lake – named the Salton Sea – to become permanent, since water lost by evaporation (up to 18% each year) is replenished by run-off from the surrounding hills. For many years at the start of the 20th century, the sea looked set to develop into one of the major leisure destinations in the state, as resorts were built and the lake became a popular location for sunbathing, swimming, boating, water skiing and fishing (after the introduction of several salt water species), though as the sea has no outlet channel, the water gradually became more saline and less inviting; besides the salty minerals leached from the hills, pollution from dissolved pesticides gradually built up, and much sewage washed into the lake from the south via the New and Alamo Rivers.

Today, the lake is still quite striking and attractive from a distance, where the water appears deep blue, ringed by pure white beaches and flanked by the creviced hills of the Chocolate, Santa Rosa and Orocopia Mountains. Close up however, the scene is not so pretty. The water is actually dark brown in color and quite smelly, containing rotting vegetable matter and often sprinkled with dead fish floating on the surface. The beaches are composed not of clean sand but fish bones, crushed shells and deposited salt, and harbor huge numbers of flies. The natural rise and fall of the surface level over the years has resulted in a band of salt-encrusted land around the lake, marked by the remains of trees, bushes, fences and even houses, all gradually decaying in the caustic environment. So although a few hardy people still swim in the Salton Sea, and the lakeshore towns are home to a population of several thousand, leisure activities are quite restricted – photography and bird watching are the main pursuits nowadays.

Salton Sea Beach
Salton Sea Beach in the 60’s