This is the largest body of water in California.
It’s about 25 km wide, by 55km long.
You can’t even see the other end of this lake.
And It is home to the most diverse number of birds
anywhere in the continental US besides Big Bend in Texas.
And here is the thing. This body of water is here by accident.
Let me explain. Back in about the 1900s,
there were engineers working on irrigating the fields of the American southwest.
They were using the water from the Colorado River,
but they were also trying to prevent it from flooding, from flooding all this farmland.
Now in 1905 they got it a little bit wrong.
basically, to flood this whole plain.
Now this plain is actually about 70 meters, over 200 feet, below sea level.
We are at one of the lowest points in North America.
flooded into this plain for about two years
before they were able to stop the flooding.
And what you are left with is the lake that you can see today.
The low-lying area where the Salton Sea now is was formed due to tectonic activity.
We are very close to the San Andreas Fault.
And that also means there is magma very close to the surface here.
Sometimes that heat boils up through mud volcanoes like these.
We are actually taking advantage of this heat using seven geothermal plants,
which together generate enough electricity for over 100,000 homes.
Now initially people thought that this lake was just going to dry out.
This is one of the hottest, driest parts of the country.
that they would take advantage of this little accident
and try to dress this whole place up like a new Riviera.
Here is truly a miracle in the desert, a whole new outlet
Here is where you can find the good life in the sun.
Today the Salton Riviera…
And for a time it worked. In the 50s and 60s
And people would enjoy the water. They actually added fish to this lake.
And the fishing was so good you could throw in a hook
and pull out a fish without even putting any bait on it.
Of course, there was lots of bird life and people really enjoyed themselves.
It looked as though everything was going great.
Until, well, the lake started to turn a little bit.
You see, the only real inflows of water to this lake are from agricultural runoff
and they bring salt into the lake and there is no outflow for this lake,
because it is so low. It is already
one of the lowest points in North America. It is below sea level.
So all that happens is the water then evaporates, leaving the salt behind
and the salinity of this water increases. It is now about 50 grams per liter,
which is a quite bit more than seawater.
That makes it hard for fish to survive. So there’re mases fish
die-offs, which create quite a smell. It is a bit stinky over here.
I wouldn’t really want to go swimming in there.
And the resorts have all closed up. There is only a few people left here.
You know, when you drive around here you find those old resort areas,
And now they are deserted, ghost towns.
And there is boats abandoned up on the shore.
It’s a kind of depressing place, which is strange, given the kind of natural beauty.
Some people might think that letting this lake evaporate is the right thing to do,
it is the natural thing to do.
But if you look back a bit further, you find
that there really did used to be a lake here,
a lake which came and went, but for the last several thousand years
the lake was here more often than it was not.
And it was filled up to a higher level.
This whole story makes me think two things. First, as humans we have incredible power
to drastically shape the earth. We can cause entire seas to disappear
in the absence of effort, in the absence of our caring, things tend towards disorder.
Things naturally fall apart. And I feel like if we don’t do anything here,
the natural result is going to be messy and ugly. I mean,
if you just look around at what has happened to
the towns that have been abandoned and the homes, which are crumbling,
it looks like a disaster area. It looks as bad as Chernobyl,
but there was no nuclear accident here. There is just a lack of caring.
And I think this applies to more than just this sea. You know?
And if we don’t care, if we don’t put in the effort,
it is not going to turn out very well.
I think that is the lesson of the Salton Sea.