The Salton Sea - A d(r)ying Paradise

Describing the Salton Sea is a hard thing to do. A lost place would be the first thing that comes to your mind when approaching it but that would do no justice to the efforts the locals still take to save it.


It's been almost four years now that I first learned about its existence. I've had been to California before but like most tourists, I had travelled the scenic routes along the coast. It was in 2019 when I decided to go for a "California only" roadtrip to get to know the golden state a little deeper. I saw this huge lake on the map and was surprised that I've had never heard of it before. A lake in the middle of the desert? That must be kind of an oasis, right? After some online research, it quickly became very clear that it's not an oasis at all but nevertheless my curiosity was piqued. In the end, a lost place always sets a photographers heart aflutter.

history of the salton sea

The Salton Sea emerged of a broken canal from the Colorado River in the beginning of the 20th century. Local farmers had built them to irrigate their land with the water from the river. A huge flood crashed the canals and the water was flowing into the empty valley for 16 months. When one was finally able to stop the water, the lake had already reached the size of 900 square miles. For many years, the problem of no fresh water supply for the lake caught no one's eye. The Salton Sea became a flourishing holiday destination. Moreover, a lot of birds and fishes found home here.


But water was well demanded throughout the dry desert. Famers used it to irrigate their fields. In return, agricultural fertilizer and pesticides polluted the lake. The high temperatures in the valley, reaching more than 100 degrees during summer time, caused severe evaporation. All of these aspects led to a fatal development that is often described as one of the biggest ecological disasters in the United States. The increasing amount of hydrogen sulfide resulted in an unprecedented dying of animals in and around the lake. Tourists stayed away and even the local residents escaped from the disgusting stench of rotten eggs. The few that stayed often have to deal with asthma due to the residuals of arsenic from the pesticides.

the blooming Salton riviera in the 60s

Abandoned tourist spots at the salton sea today

restoration efforts

Most reports on the Salton Sea end here, as if even the media left it for good. Since 2019 I've been following some campaigners and a non-profit organization on social media and learned a lot about their efforts to restore the Salton Sea, not only to support the residents still living in the area but also to protect the remaining biodiversity.


EcoMedia Compass is one of these organizations. Their long-term solution suggestion for keeping the water level stable is to import ocean water either from the Pacific or from the Sea of Cortez. Whereas there are a lot of challenges logistics and cost-wise to transport sea water via channels across the country and desalinate it, still the questions is: What would be the alternative? Is there any alternative at all? 


"We've run out of time; and this is not just about Salton Sea. This is water resource sustainability for future generations all up and down the Colorado River. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico all rely on one waining river. We're losing elevation in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Our wells are getting deeper. The Salton Sea is drying up, along with water for our people and the environment. Water inflows have been diverted to coastal cities. The Salton Sea region and entire Southwest needs a sustainable water source to survive, and thrive." (Source: EcoMedia Compass)

photo series: The salton sea - a d(r)ying paradise

The series is dedicated to raise awareness for the fortune of the Salton Sea.

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