The reason I’ve been tinkering with the Salton Sea story is its (potential?) centrality to the story of climate variability and the allocation of the Colorado River’s water. (I say I’m writing a book about “drought,” but I’m really trying to deal with questions of how people here in the West have responded over the years to decadal-scale climate variability. “Drought” people get. “Decadal-scale climate variability” gets me that glazed eye look.)
In the first two decades of the 20th century, folks were trying to turn the desert of the Imperial Valley of southeast California into farmland. Great soil, great sunshine, no rain, but the relatively frequent rampaging of the Colorado River flooding them out. So while much of the impetus for damming the Colorado involved storage of water for droughts, the Imperial folks needed it dammed a) to give them a reliable flow of irrigation water rather than the Colorado’s huge fluctuations, and b) to keep them from getting flooded out by the Colorado’s huge fluctuations.
I was talking about all this over breakfast with Mom and Dad this morning at the Frontier, and Mom told me a story I’d not heard: when my grandparents were first married (John S. and Gertrude Berry, Mom’s parents), granddad’s first job was driving a produce truck in the Imperial Valley – in 1915, smack in the middle of the period I’m reading about.
I still don’t understand the extent to which what happened in the Imperial Valley is a result of climate variability (drought?), but it’s cool that granddad was there while all this was happening