By Gary Polakovic
Don Courtney of Thermal spent some of the best years of his life on the Salton Sea. Today, he refuses to go back. Memories of the sea as it was and the heartache of what it has become are too great to bear.
"I learned how to hunt and fish and water ski there and now it's going to waste. It's a travesty," he said.
For the people who live closest to it, the Salton Sea may as well be a dead sea. many residents have scratched it from their places-to-visit list, scared away by bird die-offs, raw sewage and tainted fish. Close by as it may be, the stigma is just too great to overcome. Most citizens in Riverside and Imperial counties are indifferent to the sea's plight.
"It's filthy, it stinks and I don't go there anymore. I wouldn't eat a fish out of there if you gave it to me," said Isabel Pegues of Brawley.
Folks in the dusty farm towns of the Coachella and Imperial valleys are beyond outrage, past disgust. Many are resigned to a quiet, collective despair.
They want the sea restored so they can use it freely and share with their children experiences they had on the sea. And they long for the crowds of boaters and campers to return and fill local cash registers. Yet ordinary people feel powerless to influence decisions that affect the lake that dominates the local landscape.
Apathy has replaced hope.
"Most people don't care about the Salton Sea," said Bobby Locke, an air-conditioning contractor and longtime El Centro resident.
Mary Brown has lived in Imperial County so long she remembers when the sea was clean and the Town Pump restaurant she owns in Westmorland six miles for the sea was a 1940s brothel and gambling hall.
The Salton Sea does not register the tiniest exclamation mark on her list of concerns, even though it attracts bird-watchers, campers, and elderly winter season visitors called snow birds who dine at her restaurant.
Like many other locals, Brown cites more pressing environmental concerns, including smoke from crop burning, New river pollution, emissions from the nearby Holly Sugar factory and pesticide spraying. "The Salton Sea is not one of the top priorities on the whole agenda," Brown said.
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