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Fish die-offs show the Salton Sea's imbalance

September 06, 2012|By ANTOINE ABOU-DIWAN | Staff Writer
  • Dead fish float in the Salton Sea and litter the shore Thursday, victims of a recent fish die-off, a result of an algae bloom that consumes available oxygen in the water.
ANTOINE ABOU-DIWAN PHOTO

SALTON SEA — Linda Lemus of North Shore remembers a time when the Salton Sea was booming.

“In the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s — it was a resort,” she said. “People came from Los Angeles and San Francisco. But look at it now.”

Indeed, few things on the North Shore indicate Salton Sea’s ritzy past. There is a dock behind the recreation center. A line of picnic tables overlooks the water. But the initial sensation that greets visitors is the overpowering stench of dead fish that litter the shore and bake in the sun.

One cannot walk more than a few feet in any direction on the beach without the risk of stepping on at least one putrid tilapia carcass. More often the dead fish are in groups, rotting where they were left behind by the receding tide.

Jullian Garbutt, another life-long resident of the area, said the fish die-offs have been going on as long as she can remember. The latest die-off occurred last weekend, as hundreds of fish washed ashore.

The die-offs are an issue of the sea at imbalance, said Andrew Schlange, interim executive director of the Salton Sea Authority.

“The only way to solve it (fish die-off) is with an implementation plan that balances the sea and reduces salinity,” he said. “If we can get these moving, something will start happening down the line.”

That’s what the Salton Sea Authority and its board is attempting to do. The board decided Thursday to apply for state funds for three environmental proposals for the sea. The authority is a multi-agency body tasked with helping to find ways to aid the ailing body of water.

The first application, a grant proposal on behalf of the Torres-Martinez tribe, is for a project that will increase habitat on the sea by about 20 additional acres.

The board of directors next voted to bundle two projects, a proposal for a selenium research project at the proposed Alamo River Wetlands near Shank Road in Holtville, and the construction of the proposed Alamo River Wetlands at Holtville, into a single grant application.

Schlange said a total of $3 million are up for grabs for these proposals and about 28 proposals have been submitted.

He stressed that these proposals are steps in a long process that can eventually revive the Salton Sea.

For now, Garbutt and residents around the sea simply put up with the stench … to a point.

“People say you get used to it, but I’m not. It stinks bad,” she said.

Garbutt helps run Skip’s Liquor on the North Shore off Highway 111, and said the drop in business parallels the area’s decline.

“Business is slow,” she said, indicating that selling beer and ice to locals barely sustains her, her mom and her grandmother, owner of the establishment.

“Things have gone downhill over the years. You don’t see people boating on the water because the (high) salt (content) damages the engines. It would be nice if they were successful at cleaning it up.”

Staff writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or aabou-diwan@ivpressonline

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