The Salton Sea by Debbie Bentley (Daylight, June 2020) documents the last days of a dying California lake located just south of Palm Springs and north of the Mexican border. The lake was accidentally created in 1905 when the Colorado River breached its levees and flooded into the Salton Sink. For almost two years, an abundance of water from the Colorado River kept pouring into the sink resulting in the creation of California’s largest inland fresh-water lake. The Sea would become an oasis for migrating birds and birders and a sportfishing paradise for anglers.
In the 1950s, the Salton Sea was transformed into a popular vacation destination boldly branded “The Salton Riviera.” The lake attracted millions of visitors, including Hollywood celebrities, who flocked there for its water sports, swimming, and fishing. However, by the 1970s, the Sea was receding at an alarming rate. As the sunbaked playa was exposed, desert winds kicked up the toxic dust containing remnants of fertilizers and chemicals carried into the sea and trapped there creating a serious air-pollution problem. This hot spot getaway turned into a crumbling ghost town.
Debbie Bentley, a self-taught documentary photographer born and raised in Colorado, first travelled to the Salton Sea in the mid-2,000s to embrace the warm desert climate and investigate the area which piqued her interest. She writes in her preface to the book: “The area was an oddity, full of dilapidated houses, rotting fish, and horrible smells. Despite this, I found the lake itself beautiful, vast, and haunting … such a dangerous beauty.” She observed the realities (and failings) of state dust remediation pilot projects attempting to find solutions for the toxic dust filling the air. At the end of 2017, California mandated water transfers to the Salton Sea ended. From this point forward, the Sea would recede at an unprecedented rate, releasing ever-increasing levels of poisonous particles into the environment.
Bentley’s photographs in this book present a melancholic portrait of the Salton Sea in 2018 after water inflow had officially ended. The second section of the book focuses on evidence in the landscape of remediation activities, both abandoned and active. An abundance of water gave birth to the Salton Sea. Lack of water inflow will be its death. The lake that Bentley photographed so exquisitely and passionately over 18 months will never be as it was at that moment in time when the water stopped, nor will the remediation efforts woefully behind schedule to deal with the increasing dust. Simply put, Salton Sea is a man-made public health and environmental disaster waiting to happen, and little is being done to stop it.
Debbie Bentley : The Salton Sea
Introduction by Mark Murrmann
Essay by Debbie Bentley
Published by Daylight
101/2 x 8½ | 128 pp
55 color photographs
US $45.00 | CAN $58.99