20th-Century Land Use Policy Nearly Killed the Salton Sea. Could Today's Urban Policy Save It?


Publication:
Date: 
May 9, 2013
The Salton Sea, Southern California’s accidental oasis-turned-environmental tragedy, is the kind of disaster for which 20th-century U.S. policymakers only have themselves to thank.

Sitting 150 miles east of Los Angeles in the dry and hot Sonoran Desert, the Salton Sea is a 375-square-mile accident of nature, industry and real estate. It’s the largest inland body of water in California, but it’s saltier than the ocean, and the diversity of fish and wildlife it can support is diminishing. And below the surface is a seabed of contaminated soil that, once dried, turns to a toxic dust that is already posing public health risks.

Oh, and the sea is evaporating rapidly, which means more toxic dust being released into the air.

On the shore, decaying wooden bungalows developed during the area’s brief mid-century stint as a resort offer the illusion that the whole place could simply be an elaborate set for a dystopian horror movie made in the 1950s.

Each one of these problems remains unresolved, and scheduled changes to the sourcing and availability of the sea’s imported water promise to make each one worse.

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