Salton Sea: desolation in the desert

A sobering, disturbing yet humorous look at the journey of a holiday resort 50 miles south of Palm Springs from utopia to apocalypse.

Hailed as the Californian Riviera in the 1950s, the man-made Salton Sea has become ‘the greatest sewer in the world’ – a stagnant, foul-smelling and increasingly saline lake in the middle of the desert, causing the death of thousands of fish and birds. Its shores are bleak wastelands lined with communities battling ecological and commercial demise, lack of facilities, boredom and increasing crime and mortality rates.

Despite efforts to restore the area to its former glory, public interest in the Salton Sea has faded since the death of its most prominent advocate, musician-turned-politician Sonny Bono, and hope for a revival is evaporating as fast as the lake itself, sustained only by rainwater as transfer deals divert water from the Colorado River to more vibrant locations. Interviews with residents and activists cut with original newsreel footage paint a moving picture of the American Dream turned foul due to human intervention in nature and a shocking lack of remedial action.

review by Manuela Hübner

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea by Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer

This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008