Formed when the Colorado River breached an irrigation canal in the early 1900s, the Salton Sea, a lake in southern California’s arid Imperial Valley, was once dubbed a “miracle in the desert.” Beachgoers flocked to its shores, boaters took to its waters, and developers built up its surrounding towns. Fish and wildlife were abundant.
Decades later, faced with a steady inflow of agricultural runoff and the state’s ongoing drought problems, the Salton Sea has become increasingly saline and toxic. Beaches are now desolate, save for the fish carcasses that wash up during annual algae blooms. Homes and businesses lie abandoned, their remnants slowly deteriorating. Those who continue to live in the area are largely retirees and agricultural workers.
As climate change continues to dry the lakebed and release chemical-laden dust into the air, an ecological disaster looms. And yet, the Salton Sea continues to hold a particular allure, drawing tourists from around the world to take in its paradoxical beauty.