The new normal of no more labels

The Salton Sea has always been a hard place to love.

After the flood of 1905-07, the former Salton Sink was expected to dry up and disappear, but instead it spread out and settled in as the lake it had always wanted to be. Even in its heyday, when it was a favorite haunt of Hollywood, there was a freakish aspect to its outsized appeal.

For one thing, it was so big that you could see it from outer space; for another, it was so alien that it seemed to belong there.

But it wasn’t the lunar landscape that set the Salton Sea apart from lesser lakes; it was the idea that it was there at all. Once the novelty wore off and the crowds went elsewhere, all that was left was the freakishness, and it became the prism through which the Salton Sea has been seen ever since, as an object of curiosity and a monument to human error.

An accidental lake, in other words, liberated by a runaway Colorado River to form in an ancient lakebed created over millennia for precisely that purpose. That its latest manifestation from dry sink to rehydrated sea was facilitated by the California Development Company’s incompetence is unsurprising, as the only thing that failed enterprise ever got right was the arrival of water to the Imperial Valley, not its timely or necessarily predictable delivery.

It’s also beside the point, because the Salton Sea stopped being an accidental lake, if it ever was one, around the same time the country discovered that it had an environmental conscience and began to enact laws and a regulatory scheme to go along with it.

It stopped being an accidental lake when it became clear, in the course of finalizing the nation’s largest agricultural-to-urban water transfer, that the viability of it and all future transfers would depend on the extent to which it provided a corresponding future for the Salton Sea.

Call it unintended, if you like, but not a mistake.

Call it difficult, if you must, but not unsolvable.

Since 1905, the Salton Sea has defied expectations and the best-laid plans of men, and now it’s finally in a position to define itself, for a change, and redefine its relationship with the Colorado River. Considering the many slings and arrows it had to endure in the last century just to make it to this one, you’d have to say that the Salton Sea has done pretty well for itself, which isn’t bad for an accidental lake.

In fact, if you didn’t know better, you might even call it opportunistic.

The Editors