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Salton Sea fingered as culprit of big Calif. stink
Question of the Day
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — After a day of “odor surveillance” and other scent-based sleuthing, Southern California air quality investigators confirmed Tuesday what they had already expected — that a pungent, rotten-egg aroma that stretched across the region came from the Salton Sea.
Investigators from the South Coast Air Quality Management District collected air samples, modeled weather patterns and measured hydrogen sulfide levels to determine that Monday’s stench came from the saltwater lake 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles, as strong winds from a storm churned the water and stirred up foul-smelling gasses from the lake bottom, where they normally are trapped.
Mr. Wallerstein said the agency sent technicians trained to gauge the severity of smells across the agency’s four-county jurisdiction, where they conducted “odor surveillance.”
The air samples showed that levels of hydrogen sulfide, which has an unmistakable rotten-egg odor, were highest around the lake and grew weaker at bigger distances.
Modeling showed that a massive thunderstorm could have churned up bacteria and released the stench into the air, where it became trapped by low-hanging clouds.
The smell was strongest in the Riverside County town of Mecca, which had far worse problems Tuesday as torrential rains caused flooding in some areas.
Investigators also ruled out other possible causes such as landfills or oil refineries.
The AQMD never had any other significant candidates for the odor’s cause, but they and others familiar with the sea still had doubts the wind could carry the stench more than 100 miles, through Riverside and San Bernardino counties to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and all the way to Ventura County on California’s Central Coast.
“The problem I’m having is the magnitude of the area that was covered by the odor itself,” Mr. Schlange said earlier Tuesday. “But I guess it can happen under the right conditions, and we had those conditions, apparently, the other night.
“What happened gives us an opportunity to let people know that the Salton Sea is dying and that we need to fix it,” he said.
The massive, dying lake is plagued by increasing salinity, receding shorelines and periodic fish die-offs caused by plummeting oxygen levels in its briny waters.
Created in 1905 when floodwaters broke through a Colorado River irrigation canal, the 376-square-mile Salton Sea is bigger than Lake Tahoe but is only 51 feet deep at its deepest spot and has no outlet to the ocean. Ninety percent of its water comes from agricultural runoff from the nearby Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali valleys — a fact that gives the lake its unique soup, but also causes its many problems.
The lake, which is 235 feet below sea level, is 50 percent saltier than the ocean, and salinity levels are expected to increase even more as it shrinks.
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