California cities sucking lake dry

2015-06-03 17:38
Ed Victoria of Los Angeles sits under an umbrella as he fishes for tilapia along the receding banks of the Salton Sea near Bombay Beach, Calif. (Gregory Bull, AP)

Ed Victoria of Los Angeles sits under an umbrella as he fishes for tilapia along the receding banks of the Salton Sea near Bombay Beach, Calif. (Gregory Bull, AP)

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Salton City - Once-bustling marinas on shallow water in California's largest lake a few years ago are bone-dry. Carcasses of oxygen-starved tilapia lie on desolate shores. Flocks of eared grebes and shoreline birds bob up and down to feast on marine life.

An air of decline and strange beauty permeates the Salton Sea: The lake is shrinking - and on the verge of getting much smaller as more water goes to coastal cities.

San Diego and other Southern California water agencies will stop replenishing the lake after 2017, raising concerns that dust from exposed lakebed will exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illness in a region whose air quality already fails federal standards. A smaller lake also threatens fish and habitat for more than 400 bird species on the Pacific flyway.

Many of the more than 10 000 people who live in shoreline communities cherish the solitude but now feel forgotten. The dying lake must compete for water as California reels from a four-year drought that has brought sweeping, state-ordered consumption cuts.

Julie London, who moved to Salton City after visiting in 1986 from Washington state, hopes for help for the periodic, rotten odour from the lake that keep residents inside on hot, fly-filled summer nights. The stench in 2012 carried more than 240km to Los Angeles.

"Unfortunately, that's the only time anyone will listen because we don't have a voice," London, 60, said on her porch, one of the few that still lies a stone's throw from water.

"You can scream all you want. Nobody cares."

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