Framework

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William Jefferson of Moreno Valley pulls a tilapia from the waters of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Tilapia is a species that is hardy enough to survive the Salton Sea's high salinity.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A couple fish in triple-digit heat at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. With an average area of roughly 525 square miles, the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California. It was created in 1905 by flooding from the Colorado River.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A truck barrels down Highway 111 past the sign of a defunct resort and spa on the banks of the Salton Sea at the southern end of the state recreation area that is slated to close.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A parched tilapia is half-buried in the dried bones and scales of countless others that have died and washed ashore at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area over the last decade. The stagnant lake is prone to algal blooms that consume its oxygen and result in massive fish die-offs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Fisherman Ronnie Del Rosario of Riverside braves triple-digit temperatures to cast a line into the waters at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Located on the northeastern side of the Salton Sea, the park offers hunting, fishing, swimming and camping but is slated to close by July 1 because of state budget cuts.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Dead tilapia cover the shoreline along the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Summer algae blooms in the sea have resulted in massive fish die-offs over the years, permeating the area with the stench of decay.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Communities along the route of the Salton Sea State Recreation Area are dotted with vacant storefronts and gas stations -- testimony to a once-thriving tourist industry that long ago dried up in the desert heat.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A heron feeds in the waters off the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Salton Sea State Recreation Area slated for closure

By Tony Perry

During the heyday of the Salton Sea, when even the Hollywood crowd came to play and perform, the state recreation area along the sea’s shore was one of California’s most popular parks.

Families came to camp, fishermen came to angle for tilapia and corvina. Boaters and water-ski enthusiasts enjoyed the tranquil waters and the warm winter sun.

The Chocolate Mountains to the east and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the west made it visually delicious.

But the decades have not been kind to the Salton Sea: A series of headlines about toxics in the fish, the off-putting smell of the sea  and occasional fish die-offs have hurt. The carcasses of failed tourist-oriented businesses line the sea.

The number of people coming to the state recreation area, a 15-mile strip of beaches, campsites and picnic tables, has plummeted. Now it’s one of the dozens of state parks slated for closure because of California’s financial  woes. And unlike most of the others on the closure list, once the Salton Sea State Recreation Area closes, by July 1, it could be gone forever, with no chance of reopening.

The federal government, which owns the land, will insist that all structures be torn down or removed, including the visitor center and museum.  Riverside County will insist that the septic tanks be filled with sand.  Fences will keep out trespassers. The recreation area that attracted nearly 400,000 people annually in the early 1980s will be no more.

“It’s sad,” said Howard Simmons, 73, a retired grocery manager from Compton, as he baited his hook with a juicy worm in hopes of enticing a tilapia to bite.

A fundraising effort is underway in hopes of gathering $250,000 needed to at least keep open the main part of the recreation area for a year. There is also talk of a partnership between the state and federal government, but that could take congressional action. “All options are being explored, but at this moment I would say the chances are bleak,” said a spokesman for Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs).

7 Comments

  1. May 21, 2012, 9:51 am

    Umm… this article misses the most salient point about the decline of the Salton Sea. The acrid odor of dieing fish is the result of an algae bloom that is caused by agricultural runoff. A wholly preventable circumstance!

    I swam in the other shore of the Sea (the infamous Helen’s Beach) as a young boy. Algae blooms were rare and inconsequential to the fishery.

    Clean up the nutrient laden runoff and you clean up the Sea.

    By: Bruno
  2. May 21, 2012, 3:12 pm

    You’ll be glad to know that the nutrient load has been greatly diminished already resulting in less effects on the tilapia. Lack of oxygen continues to be a problem due to high salinity and reduced oxygen levels in the summer. They are also susceptible to cold water in the winter.

    By: saltonseamuseum
  3. May 21, 2012, 3:13 pm

    You'll be glad to know that the nutrient load has been greatly diminished already resulting in less effects on the tilapia. Lack of oxygen continues to be a problem due to high salinity and reduced oxygen levels in the summer. They are also susceptible to cold water in the winter.

    By: saltonseamuseum
  4. May 21, 2012, 3:20 pm

    I certainly hope they are not going to bulldoze the recently renovated Albert Frey yacht club. That would be a crime against great architecture.

    By: trat
  5. May 21, 2012, 3:31 pm

    Hey, I'm with Bruno. The Salton sea is now a sewer, and the hotsprings resorts and everything else are ruins that stinks. The main culprit is the ag runoff based on chemical fertilizers, and second, the denial to establish some sort of filtering to purify the water instead of putrifying it. Going out there now, as opposed to 1970's, and it looks so bizarre and eerie. The ones still living there look even eerier. AND THAT SMELL! makes me want to barf. Maybe the answer is to dry it all up, return to the mud volcano and carbon dioxide wells that create dry ice, and enjoy what once was the lowest elevation in the USA, far lower than anything in Death Valley

    By: Charlie M
  6. May 22, 2012, 10:15 am

    The North Shore Yacht Club is not in danger of being razed. However, Riverside County in all its wisdom is planning on having an elevator installed in the historic landmark which would destroy its architectural integrity. A local effort is mounting to keep that from happening.

    By: saltonseamuseum
  7. May 22, 2012, 10:37 am

    It's never a good idea to rely on hearsay and misinformation. In order to be well informed on the issue, I suggest you do a little research and actually talk to some of the experts on the sea, many of whom are scientists. You may even consider visiting some of sources of education at the sea like the visitor center at the Salton Sea State Park, the Salton Sea History Museum's visitor center and Sonny Bono Wildlife Refuge among others. I'm shocked to learn that we are all considered "eerie" looking. I suppose "eerie" is in the eye of the beholder.

    By: saltonseamuseum

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