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Two Lakes in One

By Gary Polakovic
The Press-Enterprise

It is a sea seemingly without end, stretching 35 miles long by up to 15 miles wide, an expanse nearly big enough for two Lake Tahoes.

An accidental invention, the sea was formed when the Colorado river breached an irrigation channel called Rockwood Gates near Yuma in 1905 and flooded the Salton Sink for two years. A bigger sea called Lake Cahuilla filled and evaporated on the same spot centuries earlier.

In reality, the Salton Sea is two competing lakes in one.

It is California's biggest agricultural sump. Flanked by farms, the sea is utterly dependent upon millions of gallons of heavily contaminated water flushed from fields and Mexico. Humans and nature have conspired to fill it with salt and other pollutants.

The other sea is a biological wonder, harboring a renowned fishery and first-rate habitat for more than 2 million migratory birds. Thousands of boaters, campers, hunters and bird watchers visit each year.

Today, the sea that once seemed too immense to harm is near an ecological collapse. Pollution is destroying its environment and endangering the sea's beneficial uses. Yet political obstacles, economics and the sheer enormity of the lake thwart the remedies that would most help the sea.


Gregg Hester /The Press Enterprise   

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