The Accidental Sea, Part 1

The Salton Sea is an accident. God set aside the Salton Basin to be filled with water by rain or river, but the fact that a Sea of any kind exists in the Basin today is an accident.

* * *

“Jacob, what’s that sound?”

“What sound, friend?”

“A cracking breaking crumbling sort of sound, and now it sounds like running water.”

Jacob and his friend ran out of the surveyor’s shed and watched the south wall of the irrigation ditch disintegrate in a surge of spring runoff. They ran for their horses and rode off toward the headquarters of the engineering detachment charged with keeping the irrigation controls on the part of the Colorado River nearYuma intact.

* * *

It took the committee two years to fix the break, from 1905 to 1907. Meantime, the Colorado River flowed into the Salton Basin, flooding farms, townships, and the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad. By 1907 theAccidentalSeafilled about 400 square miles of the Basin to a depth of no more than fifty feet.

The ditch breaks, the Basin floods, and one hundred and four years later it’s a crisis of Biblical proportions. The Sea is so salty even the hardy, adaptable tilapia are dying, the water is evaporating faster than agricultural runoff can replace it, and the only sound on or near the lake is the wind howling in off the desert.

Somewhere in the last hundred years the AccidentalSeabecame essential to life as we know it. What happened, and why do we want to save the Sea? It’s beyond simply saving. The shore is comprised of rotting fish carcasses, the birds are dying of botulism, communities are largely abandoned, nothing moves on the lake and you don’t want to stand too near the shore because of the overpowering smell. Anyone who says Save The Sea! means Restore The Sea! to some sort of pristine beauty that may not have existed except in someone’s imagination.

Why on earth would we want to do that?


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