This story is part of the Grist series Parched, an in-depth look at how climate change-fueled drought is reshaping communities, economies, and ecosystems.
In the spring of 1905, the Colorado River, bursting with seasonal rain, topped an irrigation canal and flooded the site of a dried lake bed in Southern California. The flooding, which continued for two years before engineers sealed up the busted channel, created an unexpected gem in the middle of the arid California landscape: the Salton Sea. In the decades that followed, vacationers, water skiers, and speed boat enthusiasts flocked to the body of water. The Beach Boys and the Marx Brothers docked their boats at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, which opened in 1959. At the time, it seemed like the Salton Sea, and the vibrant communities that had sprung up around it, would be there for centuries to come.
But the sea’s heyday was short-lived. Cut off from the life source that created it — the Colorado River — and sustained mainly by limited agricultural runoff from nearby farms, the landlocked waterbody began to evaporate. The water that remained became increasingly salty and toxic. Tourism d... Read more