NPR Published February 22, 2023 at 1:20 PM ESTSource

A shortage on the Colorado River has put tremendous pressure on the water supply that serves more than 40-million people in the Western United States.

But a punishing drought and the over allocation of the river have also created an urgent problem for California’s Salton Sea.

The 340-square-mile lake was formed in 1905 when a canal carrying river water to farmers in the Imperial Valley ruptured. The flood created a desert oasis that lured tourists and migratory birds to its shore. A century later, the Salton Sea — California’s largest lake — is spiraling into an ecological disaster.

The state of California has started projects to help stabilize the Salton Sea’s shoreline, including this one near Salton City. The hay bales are designed to interrupt the gusting wind and allow natural vegetation to take root. (Peter O’Dowd/Here & Now)

Bombay Beach: A ‘Bohemian community’

At 223 feet below sea level, Bombay Beach occupies a low spot on the map.

Many of the shoreline community’s trailer homes are rusting into the earth and tagged with graffiti. Artists have created large pieces of public sculpture, including a vintage phone booth that stands on the shoreline as a tribute to a bygone era.

During the 1950s and 1960s Bombay Beach was swinging. Celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Desi Arnaz flocked to the area.

“People would come here for the boating, the fine dining, the golfing, you name it. For many years, this was the hottest place in Southern California. It was even called the California Riviera,” says Frank Ruiz, Audubon California’s Salton Sea director.

The tourists and celebrities are gone. So are many of the community’s residents. About 230 people live in Bombay Beach now. On a recent windy day, foul-smelling yellow foam collected on the eroding shoreline.


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