The largest lake in the state of California is actually a 350 mile shallow saline sea that most don’t know about and many would like to forget. Located directly on the San Andreas fault in the Imperial and Coachella valleys, back in 1905 engineers of the California Development Company wanted to increase the flow of water into the area for farming irrigation. It wasn’t happening fast enough for them, so they cut a canal into the river bank and things backfired. The outflow flooded the Salton basin for two years before repairs were finally made, filling a historic dry lake bed and submerging the town of Salton and Native American lands.
If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade, so developers decided to turn the mistake into a resort. The Salton Sea had some success too with a new Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, and with Desert Shores on the western shore, and Desert Beach, North Shore, and Bombay Beach being built on the eastern shore in the 1950s. Over time most sites were abandoned due to the increasing salinity, as well as agricultural runoff pollution. Many of the species of fish that lived in the sea have been killed off by salt levels and algal blooms. The US Geological Survey describes the smell as “objectionable”, “noxious”, “unique”, and “pervasive”. The lake’s salinity is greater than that of the Pacific Ocean.
Dead fish have been known to wash up in mass quantities on the beaches ever since. I saw at least one hundred dead fish there myself. The smell of the lake, combined with the stench of the decaying fish, really threw a wrench into tourist industry plans, but a few people still live there today. Check out the documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, narrated by John Waters.