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Salton Sea: Countdown to Collapse

By Gary Polakovic,
Steve Medd and Stephen Sedam-Stone

The Press-Enterprise, Serving Riverside County, California
Special Report, January 3-10, 1993

Table of Contents

ABOUT THE SERIES

California's biggest lake is headed for ecological collapse but no one seems to care. Created accidentally 90 years ago, it is a haven for recreationalists and wildlife. But pollution, neglect and rising salinity are pushing the sea to the brink. This reprint of a seven-part special report which appeared in the Press-Enterprise Jan. 3 through Jan. 10, 1993, explores the sea, its richness, its decline and its possible salvation.

Toxic pollution: It is killing wildlife at the Salton sea. Without swift cleanup of the poisons, especially DDT and selenium, the sea could become a "super Kesterson," the San Joaquin Valley wildlife refuge destroyed by pollution a decade ago.

A Sea in Trouble

Selenium: A Necessity Of Life But Not Too Much Or Too Little

Salinity: Excess salts and minerals are the greatest threat to wildlife and overall health of the Salton Sea. Conservation efforts will shrink the sea, and salt concentrations will dramatically increase, fundamentally changing its ecology.

A Test of Salinity Shows The Dying Has Begun

Through History, Change Has Ruled The Salton Sea

A Shrinking Sea Means Toxic Dust

Irrigation practices: Agriculture is a major contributor to pollution in the Salton Sea, yet little has been done to solve the problem. Farmers generally do not believe they should be held accountable.

Farm Runoff: It's An On Going Challenge

Two Lakes In One

Farmers Won't Buy Pollution Alarmism

The New River: The most polluted river in the United States empties into a national wildlife refuge at the Salton Sea. But ghastly as the New River is, biologists say the sea sorely needs the "fresh" water it provides.

New River Leaves A Trail Of Poisonous Scum

A Slice Of Life Along The River's Smelly Banks

Wildlife and Environmentalists: The Salton Sea is a crucial link in the Pacific Flyway, even more so in the aftermath of California wetlands losses. Despite the sea's value to wildlife, environmental groups pay almost no attention to it.

He's A Wildlife Biologist With A Mission

For The Birds, It's An Attractive Threat

Some People Say Environmental Groups Aren't Getting Involved

When Birds Become Pests, It Is: Ready. Aim Fire!...

Economy: The Salton Sea is an economic workhorse for the surrounding area, with benefits that reach across southern California. Pollution and its effects on wildlife are driving away tourists and hurting local businesses.

Toxic Pollution Is Souring The Salton Sea's Economy

Apathy Has Replaced Hope On The Lake

Solutions: Potential solutions exist for problems at the Salton Sea, but many obstacles stand in their way.

The Sea Still Has A Chance

A Dozen Ways To Save The Salton Sea

Water Efficiency Good for People, Not Wildlife

Editorials

Facing Facts At The Salton Sea

Needed: A Sea Change

First Step In A Big Job

Salton Sea Team

Gary Polakovic: Reporter Gary Polakovic, 34, has covered the environment for the Press-Enterprise since August 1987. He previously worked as the environmental reporter for The Sun in San Bernardino and as a features writer for the Record-Searchlight in Redding. He earned a bachelor of science degree in specialized communications in 1984 from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where he studied journalism, environmental science and political science

Polakovic spent four months preparing "Salton Sea, Countdown to Collapse." He conducted 120 interviews, scaled a small mountain of scientific papers and government studies and spent many days conversing with people at the sea.

Steve Medd: Photographer Steve Medd, 37, has been on The Press-Enterprise staff since August 1990, working primarily in the Coachella Valley area. Before joining The Press-Enterprise he was chief photographer at The Desert Sun in palm Springs. Medd is president of the California Press Photographers Association.

Medd has a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge, and a bachelor of social work degree from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Stephen Sedam-Stone: Graphic artist Stephen Sedam-Stone, 29, has been with The Press-Enterprise since January 1990. He previously worked in the Bay area as design director fo the Palo Alto Weekly.

Sedam-Stone received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1985. He is an avid bird-watcher and wild-life painter and has britten and illustrated articles on bird-watching for the Palo Alto Weekly and The Press-Enterprise.

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Salton Sea Series Editor: David Rush, regional editor

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Reprint Design and Production: Richard fisher, deputy features editor