Dee Finney's blog

start date July 20, 2011

today's date September 12, 2012

page 264


Rotten smell wreaks havoc across Southern California

Posted on September 11, 2012by
September 11, 2012 CALIFORNIAWhen the rotten egg smell wafted into the Santa Clarita United Methodist Church in Saugus on Monday morning, Kathy Gray thought the church’s sewer pipe had burst. More than 70 miles to the east, steelworker Chris Tatum’s nostrils got the punch in Riverside. He assumed a brush fire had just broken out. “It smells like rotten mush.” Southern California awoke Monday morning to a foul odor that wouldn’t go away. Residents clogged 911 lines with calls, prompting health officials from Ventura County to Palm Springs to send investigators looking for everything from a toxic spill to a sewer plant leak. The prime suspect, however, lay more than 100 miles away from Los Angeles. The leading theory is that the stink was caused by the annual die-off of fish in the Salton Sea. Officials believe Sunday evening’s thunderstorms and strong winds churned up the water and pushed that dead-fish smell to points west overnight. Officials from the Air Quality Management District and other agencies said they have never dealt with a stench quite like this. Although the fish die-off usually causes foul odors in parts of the Inland Empire, officials cannot recall it traveling this far. “It’s very unusual that any odor would be this widespread, from the Coachella to Los Angeles County,” said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “We’re talking well over 100 miles. I can’t recall ever confirming an odor traveling that distance.” The Salton Sea did track 40-mph winds Sunday night, and officials said that probably served as a trigger. “The winds could have stirred up the water,” said Bill Meister, president of the Sea and Desert Interpretive Assn. “Because the lake is so shallow, and there is 100 years worth of decayed material at the bottom, you’d get that rotten egg smell.” At its deepest points, the Salton Sea is only about 50 feet, said Andrew Schlange, general manager of the Salton Sea Authority. The 360-square-mile body of murky, highly saline water is also receding into the desert. More water is evaporating from the sea than is flowing in from agricultural runoff. In some places the falling waterline has uncovered thermal fields studded with features like geysers and boiling mud pots spewing clouds of steam and sulfur dioxide gas that smells like rotten eggs. The “accidental sea” was created in 1905 when the Colorado River jumped its banks during a rainy season and gushed north for months, filling an ancient salt sink. It’s 35 miles long, 15 miles wide and 227 feet below sea level. Schlange said it’s a common occurrence for fish populations to explode and then suffer die-offs when oxygen is depleted from the sea. “The problem is [the odor] would have to have migrated 50 to 100 miles, without it being dissipated by mixing with other air. It doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “I’ve been in Southern California my whole life, and I’m not aware of any time in the past where the odor from the Salton Sea has migrated as far as people are telling us.” -LA Times


Actually, no. Methane itself does not have an especially pungent odor, making it nearly impossible to detect leaks via sense of smell alone. Thus, a foul-smelling compound is added to methane before it's used commercially, for safety reasons.

Read more:


The odor of rotten eggs is caused by Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) , a poisonous, colorless flammable deadly gas, that can explode. This is what is added to the Methane we call 'natural gas' which we use in our homes.


Dee Finney's Blog July 29, 2012 page 260 - THE GAUDY SIDE OF SHOW BUSINESS PEOPLE ...
Jul 29, 2012 – Remember, plumb up into the Salton Sea is a hundred or two hundred feet lower than the sea level. That water will probably come almost to ...

    Jan 13, 1999 – Also the Salton Sea Trough quakes also have their predominant timing during the Volcanic Windows. This morning (day 13) SW of Brawley ...
    ... centered some three miles (four kilometers) from Bombay Beach, which is on the Salton Sea, a large lake in the Salton Sink desert basin, the USGS reported.
    The Quake occurred in the Salton Sea - 60 miles east of Bombay Beach. 4.7-magnitude earthquake shakes California. 3-24-09. LOS ANGELES (AFP) — A ...
    CALIFORNIA, SALTON SEA - Mountains adjacent to the Salton sea of S. California have been the site of reports of subterranean rock slides, and also legends ...
    Botulism is a significant cause of mortality for brown pelicans at the nearby Salton Sea, but it is typically not a concern for the coastal population. IBRRC is caring ...
    I told her that she could maintain two residences and shuttle between the SF Bay Area (during Volcanic Windows) and the Salton Sea area (during Seismic .
    I read the whole paper, that of which was of interest and pick out an article about the Salton Sea which is dying to put on my web site. Sonny Bono was working ...
    90MS 1/21/95 1/10-18 +6.3 If Salton Sea. 150MS 1/21/95 1/10-18 +8.4 If New England. >C L. A. BASIN-SOUTH COAST-/+4.0/100% Out of critical until 1/23.


The Salton Sea is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California's Imperial Valley.

The lake occupies the lowest elevations of the Salton Sink in the Colorado Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California. Like Death Valley, it is below sea level. Currently, its surface is 226 ft (69 m) below sea level. The deepest area of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers, as well as agricultural runoff drainage systems and creeks.

The Sea was created by a flood in 1905, in which water from the Colorado River flowed into the area. While it varies in dimensions and area with fluctuations in agricultural runoff and rainfall, the Salton Sea averages 15 mi (24 km) by 35 mi (56 km). With an average area of roughly 525 sq mi (1,360 km2), the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. Average annual inflow is 1,360,000 acre·ft (1.68 km3), which is enough to maintain a maximum depth of 52 ft (16 m) and a total volume of about 7,500,000 acre·ft (9.3 km3).

The lake's salinity, about 44 g/L, is greater than that of the waters of the Pacific Ocean (35 g/L), but less than that of the Great Salt Lake (which ranges from 50 to 270 g/L). The concentration increases by about 1 percent annually.[1]

Geologists estimate that for 3 million years, at least through all the years of the Pleistocene glacial age, the Colorado River worked to build its delta in the southern region of the Imperial Valley. Eventually, the delta had reached the western shore of the Gulf of California (the Sea of Cortez/Cortés), creating a massive dam that excluded the Salton Sea from the northern reaches of the Gulf. Were it not for this dam, the entire Salton Sink along with the Imperial Valley, including most of the area occupied by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, would all be submerged, as the Gulf would extend as far north as Indio.[2]

As a result, the Salton Sink or Salton Basin has long been alternately a fresh water lake and a dry desert basin, depending on random river flows and the balance between inflow and evaporative loss. A lake would exist only when it was replenished by the river and rainfall, a cycle that repeated itself countless times over hundreds of thousands of years – most recently when the lake was recreated in 1905.[3]

There is evidence that the basin was occupied periodically by multiple lakes. Wave-cut shorelines at various elevations are still preserved on the hillsides of the east and west margins of the present lake, the Salton Sea, showing that the basin was occupied intermittently as recently as a few hundred years ago. The last of the Pleistocene lakes to occupy the basin was Lake Cahuilla, also periodically identified on older maps as Lake LeConte, and the Blake Sea, after American professor and geologist William Phipps Blake.

Once part of a vast inland sea that covered a large area of Southern California, the endorheic Salton Sink was the site of a major salt mining operation.[4] Throughout the Spanish period of California's history the area was referred to as the "Colorado Desert" after the Colorado River. In a railroad survey completed in 1855, it was called "the Valley of the Ancient Lake". On several old maps from the Library of Congress, it has been found labeled "Cahuilla Valley" (after the local Indian tribe) and "Cabazon Valley" (after a local Indian chief – Chief Cabazon). "Salt Creek" first appeared on a map in 1867 and "Salton Station" is on a railroad map from 1900, although this place had been there as a rail stop since the late 1870s.[5]

Accidental creation of the current Salton Sea

Dry Bed of Colorado River Below Imperial Intake [...] River Diverted Into Imperial Canal

In 1900, the California Development Company began construction of irrigation canals to divert water from the Colorado River into the Salton Sink, a dry lake bed. After construction of these irrigation canals, the Salton Sink became fertile for a time, allowing farmers to plant crops.

Within two years, the Imperial Canal became filled with silt from the Colorado River. Engineers tried to alleviate the blockages to no avail. In 1905, heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell, overrunning a set of headgates for the Alamo Canal. The resulting flood poured down the canal and breached an Imperial Valley dike, eroding two watercourses, the New River in the west, and the Alamo River in the east, each about 60 miles (97 km) long.[6] Over a period of approximately two years these two newly created rivers sporadically carried the entire volume of the Colorado River into the Salton Sink.[7]

The Southern Pacific Railroad attempted to stop the flooding by dumping earth into the canal's headgates area, but the effort was not fast enough, and as the river eroded deeper and deeper into the dry desert sand of the Imperial Valley, a massive waterfall was created that started to cut rapidly upstream along the path of the Alamo Canal that now was occupied by the Colorado. This waterfall was initially 15 feet (4.6 m) high but grew to a height of 80 feet (24 m) before the flow through the breach was finally stopped. It was originally feared that the waterfall would recede upstream to the true main path of the Colorado, attaining a height of up to 100 to 300 feet (30 to 91 m), from where it would be practically impossible to fix the problem. As the basin filled, the town of Salton, a Southern Pacific Railroad siding, and Torres-Martinez Indian land were submerged. The sudden influx of water and the lack of any drainage from the basin resulted in the formation of the Salton Sea.[8][9]

The continuing intermittent flooding of the Imperial Valley from the Colorado River led to the idea of the need for a dam on the Colorado River for flood control. Eventually, the federal government sponsored survey parties in 1922 that explored the Colorado River for a dam site, ultimately leading to the construction of Hoover Dam in Black Canyon, which was constructed beginning in 1929 and completed in 1935. The dam effectively put an end to the flooding episodes in the Imperial Valley.

 Subsequent evolution

mud salton sea
A gaseous mud volcano

The Salton Sea enjoyed some success as a resort area, with Salton City, Salton Sea Beach, and Desert Shores on the western shore and Desert Beach, North Shore, and Bombay Beach built on the eastern shore in the 1950s. The town of Niland is located 3 km southeast of the Sea as well. The evidence of geothermal activity is also visible. There are mudpots and mud volcanoes on the eastern side of the Salton Sea.[10]

Avian population

The Salton Sea has been termed a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity" (Dr. Milt Friend, Salton Sea Science Office). Over 400 species have been documented at the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea supports 30% of the remaining population of the American white pelican.[11] The Salton Sea is also a major resting stop on the Pacific Flyway. On 18 November 2006, a Ross's gull, a high Arctic bird, was sighted and photographed there.[12]

Environmental decline

  Avian population

The Salton Sea has been termed a "crown jewel of avian biodiversity" (Dr. Milt Friend, Salton Sea Science Office). Over 400 species have been documented at the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea supports 30% of the remaining population of the American white pelican.[11] The Salton Sea is also a major resting stop on the Pacific Flyway. On 18 November 2006, a Ross's gull, a high Arctic bird, was sighted and photographed there.[12]

The lack of an outflow means that the Salton Sea is a system of accelerated change. Variations in agricultural runoff cause fluctuations in water level (and flooding of surrounding communities in the 1950s and 1960s), and the relatively high salinity of the inflow feeding the Sea has resulted in ever increasing salinity. By the 1960s it was apparent that the salinity of the Salton Sea was rising, jeopardizing some of the species in it. The Salton Sea has a salinity exceeding 4.0% w/v (saltier than seawater) and many species of fish can no longer survive. It is believed that once the salinity surpasses 4.4% w/v, only the tilapia will survive. Fertilizer runoffs combined with the increasing salinity have resulted in large algal blooms and elevated bacteria levels.[13]

Remediation efforts

Past efforts and proposals for a sea level canal

Alternatives for "saving" the Salton Sea have been evaluated since 1955. Early concepts included costly "pipe in/pipe out" options, which would import lower salinity seawater from the Gulf of California or Pacific Ocean and export higher salinity Salton Sea water; evaporation ponds that would serve as a salt sink, and large dam structures that would partition the sea into a marine lake portion and a brine salt sink portion. Others advocate building a sea-level canal to the Salton Sea from the Gulf of California. Given that the Sea is over 200 feet (60m) below sea level, a sea level canal would allow thousands of tons of lower-salinity sea water to flow into the Sea without costly pumping or pipelines. Such a canal could be built large enough for recreational use and ocean-going vessels. A sea-level canal would promote dual purposes, as both an inland port for Southern California and a recreational/environmental asset along its course for humans and wildlife in Mexico and the U.S. A sea-level canal would also likely provide a way to regulate the shoreline of the Sea in a predictable manner.

Much of the current interest in the sea was sparked in the 1990s by the late Congressman Sonny Bono.[14] His widow, Mary Bono Mack, was elected to fill his seat and has continued interest in the Salton Sea, as has Representative Jerry Lewis of Redlands.[14] In 1998, the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Project was named for the politician.[14]

In the late 1990s, the Salton Sea Authority, a local joint powers agency, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began efforts to evaluate and develop an alternative to save the Salton Sea. A draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, which did not specify a preferred alternative, was released for public review in 2000. Since that time, the Salton Sea Authority has developed a preferred concept[15] that involves the construction of a large dam that would impound water to create a marine sea in the northern and southern parts of the sea and along the western edge.[c

Criticisms of the preferred plan issued by the Salton Sea Authority include the risk of massive alkali storms blowing across the area destroying crops from the south basin.[16]

Many other concepts have been proposed,[17] including piping water from the Sea to a wetland in Mexico, Laguna Salada, as a means of salt export, and one by Aqua Genesis Ltd to bring in sea water from the Gulf of California, desalinate it at the Sea using available geothermal heat, and selling the water to pay for the plan. This concept would involve the construction of over 20 miles (30 km) of pipes and tunneling, and, with the increasing demand for water at the coastline, would provide an additional 1,000,000 acre feet (1.2 km3) of water to Southern California coastal cities each year.[18]

The California State Legislature, by legislation enacted in 2003 and 2004, directed the Secretary of the California Resources Agency to prepare a restoration plan for the Salton Sea ecosystem, and an accompanying Environmental Impact Report.[19] As part of this effort the Secretary for Resources has established an Advisory Committee to provide recommendations to assist in the preparation of the Ecosystem Restoration Plan, including consultation throughout all stages of the alternative selection. The California Department of Water Resources and California Department of Fish and Game are leading the effort to develop a preferred alternative for the restoration of the Salton Sea ecosystem and the protection of wildlife dependent on that ecosystem.

On January 24, 2008, the California Legislative Analyst's Office released a report titled "Restoring the Salton Sea."[19] The preferred alternative outlined in the draft plan calls for spending almost $9 billion over 25 years and proposes a smaller but more manageable Salton Sea. The amount of water available for use by humans and wildlife would be reduced by 60 percent from 365 square miles (945 square kilometers) to about 147 square miles (381 square kilometers). Fifty-two miles (84 km) of barrier and perimeter dikes – constructed most likely out of boulders, gravel, and stone columns – would be erected along with earthen berms to corral the water into a horseshoe shape along northern shoreline of the sea from San Felipe Creek on the west shore to Bombay Beach on the east shore. The central portion of the sea would be allowed to almost completely evaporate and would serve as a brine sink, while the southern portion of the sea would be constructed into a saline habitat complex. Construction on the project would be completed by 2035.

 Media attention

The documentary, Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, narrated by John Waters, covers the first 100 years of the Salton Sea along with the environmental issues and offbeat residents of the region.

A 6-minute short film, The Accidental Sea, filmed and narrated by Ransom Riggs, briefly discusses the history and depicts the desolation since the area's abandonment.[20]

The episode "Future Conditional" (#302) from the series Journey to Planet Earth (narrated by Matt Damon) talks about the plight of the sea, and, if nothing is done, a repeat of the fate of the Aral Sea will occur.[21]

The episode "Holiday Hell" (#206) from the series Life After People uses the Salton Sea as an example of how a resort town like Palm Springs would decay if no humans were there to maintain it.[22]

On March 24, 2009, a Los Angeles Times article reported a series of earthquakes in the Salton Sea. The article also quoted prominent geophysicists and seismologists who discuss the potential for these small quakes to spawn a massive earthquake on the San Andreas Fault.[23]

A film about some residents of the Bombay Beach community on the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, was made in 2010 by Israeli-born filmmaker Alma Har’el, and described by The New York Times as a "surreal documentary".[24] The film won first prize in the feature documentary section of the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011.[25]

 Earthquake geology

The Salton Sea and surrounding basin sits over the San Andreas Fault, San Jacinto Fault, Imperial Fault Zone, and a "stepover fault" shear zone system. American researchers determined that previous flooding episodes from the Colorado River have been linked to earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault. Sonar and other instruments were used to map the Salton Sea's underwater faults during the study. During the period when the basin was filled by Lake Cahuilla, a much larger inland sea, earthquakes higher than magnitude 7 occurred roughly every 180 years, the last one occurring within decades of the year 1700. Computer models suggest that the normal faults in the area are most vulnerable to deviatoric stress loading by the in-filling of water. Currently, a risk still exists for an earthquake of magnitude 7 or 8. Simulations also showed that in the Los Angeles area, shaking and thus damage would be more severe for a San Andreas earthquake that propagated along the fault from the south, rather than from the north. Such an earthquake also raises the risk for soil liquefaction in the Imperial Valley region.[26] The effective drainage divide that separates the Salton Sea from the Gulf of California is approximately 9 m (30 ft) in elevation and is located near Delta, northeastern Baja California State, Mexico, south-southeast of Mexicali.[27] Past sea level rise may partially be responsible for the salinity of the lake, while potential future changes in sea levels could occur. However, other factors such as hydrothermal vents, diffusion of salt from minerals and sediment, including concentrated brine and evaporites are another contributor to salinity, as is the recent lowering of lake levels raising the salinity, though sedimentary records show that the lake surface elevation reached levels 10–12 metres above sea level in the 1500s.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Bali KM (27 March 2009). "Salton Sea Salinity and Saline Water". UC Davis, Cooperative Extension Imperial County. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  2. ^ Alles, DL (2007-08-06). "Geology of the Salton Trough". Biology Department. Western Washington University. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
  3. ^ Singer E. "Ancient Lake Cahuilla – Geology of the Imperial Valley". Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  4. ^ The Salton Sea – Its Beginnings. Accessed 2010-06-14
  5. ^ History of the Salton Sea, Accessed 2010-06-14
  6. ^ Detailed maps, and a film of the breach (and subsequent re-damming) are in Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a 2006 documentary
  7. ^ Laflin, P. "THE SALTON SEA CALIFORNIA'S OVERLOOKED TREASURE". Coachella Valley Historical Society. pp. 21–26. Retrieved 1 June 2010.
  8. ^ Kennan, G (1917). The Salton Sea: An Account of Harriman's Fight With The Colorado River. New York: The MacMillan Company. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
  9. ^ Larkin, EL (1907). "A Thousand Men Against A River: The Engineering Victory Over The Colorado River And The Salton Sea". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XIII: 8606–10. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  10. ^ Lynch, DK; Hudnut, KW (2008). "The Wister Mud Pot Lineament: Southeastward Extension or Abandoned Strand of the San Andreas Fault?". Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 98 (4): 1720–9. doi:10.1785/0120070252.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ NASA page: "Algal bloom in the Salton Sea, California".
  14. ^ a b c CNN article: "Salton Sea rescue to be named for Sonny Bono".
  15. ^ State of California
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^; San Diego Union Times: Ronald Newcomb's Salton Sea proposal
  19. ^ a b Salton Sea Ecosystem Restoration Program
  20. ^ "The Accidental Sea". August 2011. Retrieved June 02, 2012.
  21. ^ "Future Conditional" (#302) Journey to Planet Earth
  22. ^ "Life after people" (#206) Life after people
  23. ^ Chong, JR (2009-03-24). "At the Salton Sea, a warning sign of the Big One?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  24. ^ Holden, Stephen (October 13, 2011). "Last Resort Remains an Oasis of Dreams". The New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  25. ^ "Awards for Bombay Beach". January 11, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  26. ^ Ross, JE (July 27, 2011). "Flooding of Ancient Salton Sea Linked to San Andreas Earthquakes". Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. Scripps Oceanography News. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  27. ^ Tingle, A. "Flood Maps". Flood.,-114.7357&z=9&m=9. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  28. ^ Wardlaw, GD; Valentine DL (January 2005). "Evidence for salt diffusion from sediments contributing to increasing salinity in the Salton Sea, California". Hydrobiologia 533 (1–3): 77–85. doi:10.1007/s10750-004-2395-8. Retrieved 31 July 2011.


Further reading

External links