Newspaper exonerates Salton Sea of charges it stinks. Or does it?

Salton Sea, 1907

Salton Sea, 1907, photo courtesy USGS, credited to G.K. Gilbert

In a hard-hitting exposé, the Desert Sun earlier this month seems to have conclusively cleared the Salton Sea of charges that it smells really bad:

The smell seemed to be everywhere — except the place where people usually think it comes from.

A pungent, sewer-like odor in the air was noted Friday morning by people across the Coachella Valley.

“Eight o’clock, I went outside to walk the dog and said, ‘Oh my goodness. What the hell is this?’” said Bryan Cox, a resident of northern Palm Springs.

But it was a nice day Friday along the shore of the Salton Sea, the 35-mile-long lake formed in a natural basin by agricultural runoff.

But wait…

But one employee coming in from east La Quinta took note of the odor. “He said it was the Salton Sea,” Hermann said.

Palm Springs ecologist Jim Cornett said the usual suspect is, in this case, the correct one.

“I noticed it right away when I went out to get the paper, and I said ‘Oh, Salton Sea,’” he said.

I am so confused. Does the Salton Sea stink? Anyone?


  1. That photo was an inadvertent bit of framing, helped by more poor reading comprehension skills that missed the “earlier this month” bit in the opening paragraph (you whacky journalists… thinking that we’re going to read the lede!). I thought it was a story from 1907.

    More seriously, there’s a bit of a lack of science in that article, isn’t there? Lots of he-said/she-said and “I heard people say…” A conversation starter more than an opinion piece.

  2. Sorry for the confusing picture, bad choice on my part, though I was unbelievably excited when I realized that G.K. Gilbert had been there in 1907!

    It’s just fully the most bizarre newspaper story I’ve ever read.

  3. I don’t know if it smells all the time, but I drove around the entire basin one day last year with my wife. When we stood on the western shoreline, there was a breeze blowing out of the east and it smelled kinda bad, not horrible but noticeable. Later, when we were standing on the eastside shore it smelled just fine. Of course, the breeze was still blowing out of the east.

  4. This is not scientific, but I used to live in Southern California and took weekend trips down to the Glamis Dunes system to ride ATVs. We’d have to drive by the Salton Sea and we knew we were in for bad smells for miles. It was consistent and bad smelling like sewage or sulfur alternately. I’d be curious to know what causes that smell. But, what can you expect from a man-made error that has become the collector of years of agricultural fertilizer and pesticide waste?

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