Slab City, Salton Sea, CA
About 100 years ago, a vision of agricultural industry was forced upon a large valley in the desert of southern California. Speculators tried to divert water from the massive Colorado River – which provides much needed water to the dry region – in hopes of irrigating the valley to attract farmers. Heavy rains flooded the river, causing the canals – that were dug to irrigate the valley – to overflow, bringing an enormous amount of water into the area. The water collected to form a large lake, about 55 km long and 30 km wide at certain points. When the body of water failed to disappear, the speculators had to rethink their plan.
After debating what to do with the accidentally created sea, the decision was made to capitalise on it by creating a resort for water recreation and fishing. Farmers were still settled around the sea, but it soon became more popular with families looking for a holiday spot.
Deemed the “Riviera of Southern California” at it’s inception in the 1940’s, the Salton Sea experienced decades of prosperity as a desert “oasis” for countless people who came to boat, water-ski, fish or relax on the beach. But this period of economic growth ultimately came to an end when ecological problems began to occur. Agricultural run-off into the sea greatly increased the salinity of the valley, adding to the existing salt deposits that remained from millions of years ago, when salt water covered California.
A host of problems ensued: severe flooding, dying fish from bacteria swells in the warm water and corrosion of man-made structures from the high salt content. These problems, which still persist to this day, led almost all of it’s visitors to abandon Salton Sea in the 70’s.
However, many continue to call this disaster their home, with a handful of communities settled around the sea. The most infamous of all is Slab City. Slab City got it’s name from the left over concrete slabs from a military base abandoned by the US government in the 1940’s. It has since become a rent-free habitation zone for anyone who passes through. Locals call them the “Slabs” and while there’s no official census, hundreds live there seasonally – leaving in April when the weather starts to become very hot to return in the fall. A few remain all year round.
The region is layered with dreams that have backfired over and over again. It’s past sounds like a fable. It’s present appears post-apocalyptic. It’s future is uncertain, but history has a strange way of repeating itself.