Image captured in 2015 at Bombay Beach, on the shore of the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley.
In 1905, engineers of the California Development Company cut a channel into the bank of the Colorado River, hoping to augment the flow of water to the irrigation canals supplying farms in the Imperial Valley. They miscalculated, and the flow overwhelmed existing canals and for two years flooded into the valley, forming what is now the Salton Sea.
At first, there were high hopes for development of the area, which became the largest lake in California. It was stocked with fish, and resorts were built. Sonny Bono, among others, grew up waterskiing on the lake. Communities were built, and even more were planned.
Unfortunately, the lake did not have a normal ingress and egress to create a healthy water cycle. Heavy fertilization of the land upstream of the lake poured salt into it at a rate which has left it with a greater level of salinization than the Pacific Ocean, and one which approaches that of the Great Salt Lake.
Most of the fish in the lake have died, due to increased salinity and pollution, and water levels have receded, leaving planned communities as “slab cities”, with the occasional house popping up from the empty grid of streets. The beaches are littered with the eerie salt-preserved corpses of fish, and nearby the rapidly decaying homes of the people who once lived there.
Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place. I brave the smell in order to photograph the conquest of human construction by the elements as often as I can. You will also find a rich population of birds on the lake. It is a critical stop on the migration routes of many species.
I made a bold move recently, cutting through the banks of my vulnerability to try to feed and fertilize a part of my soul which had become barren. It got out of control, and a budding friendship was overwhelmed. I did my best to repair the damage by rebuilding the bank, but the lake remained, and was poisoned by the very thing I had been trying to feed.
Still, like the Salton Sea, it is beautiful, and the remnants of the dream are worth visiting, recording, and remembering. And, like the Sea, it is still alive for anyone willing to take the time to see it. Millions of birds can’t be wrong.