Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Salton Sea

For those of you not familiar with the Salton Sea, it is an inland sea in California which is fed by the Colorado River. The sea's surface is currently 227 feet below sea level and as such has no outlet. Because of this it is one of the saltiest bodies of water in North America and is actually saltier than the Pacific Ocean. But the Salton Sea isn't old, not by any means. In fact, one could say it is celebrating it's 100th anniversary.

In 1901 the area where the sea is now was called the King's Basin. It was being reclaimed by settlers farming the basin and water was being diverted to water their crops. In 1904 the canal had become clogged so a cut was made elsewhere to allow water to come through. This proved to be the downfall of the entire settlement.
The daily reports from the gauge at Rubio City showed an increase in the river's volume of twenty thousand second feet; then thirty thousand more; and on top of that came another twenty thousand. The assistants of the new chief engineer tried to tell him what it meant, but the assistants were subordinates and friends ofWillard Holmes. The man from New York, who was privileged to write several letters after his name, was supposed to know his business.

Then the assembled forces of the river reached the intake, and the trembling wooden structures that stood between the pioneers and ruin, besieged by the rising flood, battered by the swirling currents, bombarded by drift, gave way under the strain and the charging waters plunged through the breach.

Too late the Company's forces were rushed to the scene. Before their very eyes the roaring waters, as if mad with destructive power, wrenched and tore at the Company's property, twisting, ripping, smashing, until not a trestle, plank or stick was left in place and the terrific current, rushing with ever increasing volume and power through the opening, plowed into the soft, alluvial soil of the embankment, undermining and carrying it away until nearly the entire river was admitted.

As quickly as men and material could be assembled, the Company's chief engineer began the battle to regain control of the mighty stream. The warfare thus begun meant life or death to the greatest reclamation project in the world. Millions already invested by the settlers in farms and towns and homes and business enterprises were at stake. Many more millions that were yet to be realized from the reclaimed lands depended upon the issue of the fight.

Against the efforts of the engineers and the army of laborers the river massed from its tributaries in the regions of heavy rains and melting snows the greatest strength it had assembled in many years. Five times, with piling and trestles and jettie sand embankments, the men who defended The King's Basin were in sight of victory. Five times the river summoned fresh strength-twisted out the piling, wrecked the trestles, undermined the jetties and embankments and swept the nearly completed structures, smashing, grinding, crashing, away--a twisted, tangled ruin.
This is from the writings of Harold Bell Wright in his historical novel The Winning of Barbara Worth. Read the entire account here

From 1905 until the breach was dammed in 1907 nearly the entire Colorado River flowed into this basin. What is left is a salty, nutrient loaded (and can become oxygen poor) sea that is none the less habitat for many species of birds and a huge number of fish. Click here for more info on the Salton Sea