I’m in Southern California, on the shores of the famous Salton Sea, gathering information for a forthcoming InvestigateWest project on the Pacific Flyway.
This is the desert — albeit one with water running all over the place in concrete aqueducts, and green fields of hay, courtesy of the irrigation.
It’s supposed to get up to 104 degrees today. But it’s worth braving the heat of late summer to see firsthand this crucial link in the flyway, about which I’ve been hearing about for something like 20 years, and which could be severed as a crucial link in the flyway in not that many years to come.
I’m indebted in this pursuit to Patricia Rice*, who in the 1990s covered the Salton Sea and other environmental issues for the Imperial Valley Press. Patricia was really excited to hear about the founding of InvestigateWest and offered to help us, even though she’s no longer in journalism and is living in Colorado.
Patricia hopped on the phone and contacted her old sources and helped me locate scientists, activists and others who will really help fill out the story.
I’m also indebted to photographer Paul Joseph Brown, who’s traveling with me and making what I’m sure will be spectacular photographs and engaging video.
This is a bit of a man bites dog story. The Salton Sea was created early last century when high flows in the Colorado River breached a dike. The water ran downhill — to this desert basin, 200 feet below sea level. It was a mistake that turned into a plus, in that now birds use it as a stopover in Southern California, where much of the natural landscape today lies under concrete and asphalt.
However, now levels of salt and selenium are increasing in the “sea” — actually a lot smaller than Lake Okeechobee, which I covered for a long time — and some big decisions remain to be made. Water that used to flow into the sea, keeping it from becoming too saline, is now being diverted elsewhere.
Look for more on the sea when we roll out the flyway piece. In the meantime, I should also thank our hard-working interns from the environmental journalism program at Western Washington University. Natasha Walker and Emily Linroth have been doing some first-class work on the flyway story. I’ll have another post soon more properly introducing Emily and Natasha.
*Update 8:54 p.m.: Ahhh, geez! I’m mortified to report that I made a mistake about Patricia’s last name when this blog initially was filed. I could try to blame a sleep-addled brain… but that would be lame. I talked with Patricia tonight and she’s still as much the gung-ho supporter of investigative journalism in the public interest she was before my screw-up. That’s lucky for us, and for the public!
— Robert McClure