Debbie Bentley: Salton Sea

Some places impact us and remain in our thoughts long after we first experience them. The vast and hauntingly beautiful Salton Sea has impacted and stayed with me since the first time I saw it in the mid 2000’s.  Receding water levels, bird and fish mass die offs, and increasing dust made it clear to me that this, the largest lake in California, was in serious trouble. 

 

At one time, particularly in the 1950’s, the Salton Sea was billed as the “Salton Rivera” and hosted a robust tourist trade.  The Sea was filled with boats and its sandy shores with people enjoying this massive lake in the center of the Southern California desert.

The Salton Sea is not a naturally occurring body of water.  It was formed as the result of irrigation efforts in the early 1900’s to provide water to the growing Imperial Valley farming industry.  The Valley was compared to the Nile, where climate allowed for exotic crops, such as dates. 

The Nile in the desert.

To feed the ever-increasing demand for water, an additional cut was made into the Colorado River to divert water for irrigation.  The Colorado River breached the head gate and flowed unchecked into the “Salton Sink” for two years.  Out of this influx of the Salton Sea was born – lack of water will now be its death. 

I felt the importance of documenting the Salton Sea in 2018 to capture it and the State’s current dust remediation efforts during the first year State and Federally mandated water transfers ended.These water transfers began in 2003, with the intent of stabilizing the Salton Sea while projects could be developed and implemented. 

As is all too common, the years came and went, and little was accomplished.  My series focuses on areas with the greatest playa exposure and remediation efforts, as well as the only three remaining sources of water to the lake.  These include the New River (the most polluted river in the United States), Alamo River and Whitewater River

There is a human toll from the dust that increasingly fills the air.  Desert winds carry the fine dust toward populated areas in the Imperial Valley, causing childhood asthma and crop damage. 

Debbie Bentley

Debbie Bentley is a documentary photographer currently living and working in Vacaville, California. Her work focuses on places, and the connection places have to the internal parts of people.  She feels that as a photographer, it is her calling to see and record this connectivity. She is also an artist, working in a variety of mediums and book arts.