Editors Letter

Beautiful Decay at the Salton Sea

Steven Biller

One of the first Sunday drives I took after moving to the Coachella Valley nine years ago was to the Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake and a perennial point of contention among preservationists, politicians, and residents — especially when gusts of foul air blow across the desert.

And the first thing my friends and I noticed as we walked toward the beach at the old North Shore Yacht Club was that no one was on the water. Not a single boat. Only a few people along the shoreline fishing for tilapia. Yet the sea appeared as beautiful and fascinating as it was troublesome.

The modern history of the Salton Sea traces back more than 100 years, when the Colorado River burst out of an irrigation canal and created the lake. Since then, agricultural runoff has fed the sea, preventing it from evaporating under the desert sun. But the waters that have sustained the endorheic Salton Sea have also poisoned it. Its salinity now exceeds that of the Pacific Ocean, inhibiting fish reproduction and diminishing the food supply for millions of fish-eating birds.

Nearly a decade since my first visit to the sea, I still wonder what will happen if evaporation continues and dried salt sediments give way to alkali clouds that could travel across the Coachella Valley, potentially destroying agricultural crops and golf courses and causing a pandemic of respiratory problems among residents and visitors.

While various authorities grapple with the future of the Salton Sea, artists continue painting and photographing around the yacht club and former shoreline resort towns such as Bombay Beach, Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, and Desert Shores.

In April, the new Salton Sea History Museum, located in the restored North Shore Yacht Club, opened its inaugural exhibition, Valley of the Ancient Lake: Works Inspired by the Salton Sea. The artwork, says Ann Japenga (“The New Sublime”), showcases the traditional, apocalyptic, and everything in between.

We hope the exhibition raises awareness of the threats and opportunities at the Salton Sea and inspires a sense of urgency for the health of the Coachella Valley.

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