Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 6 years old.

Once known as the "California Riviera," the Salton Sea is now considered one of America's worst ecological disasters: a fetid, stagnant, salty lake, coughing up dead fish and birds by the thousands. "Accidentally" created by an engineering error in 1905, reinvented in the '50s as a world class vacation destination for the rich and famous, and then suddenly abandoned after a series of hurricanes, floods, and fish die-offs, the Salton Sea has a peculiar and bittersweet past.

This surreal and apocalyptic landscape is now home to a hardy group of eccentric hangers-on, who have carved out their own slice of paradise on the shores of this environmental train wreck. As if living on the banks of a man-made mistake wasn't challenging enough, the sea's most unique community now faces a new struggle. Residents are being threatened by the nearby megalopolises of Los Angeles and San Diego, which are poised to snatch up the agricultural run-off that barely sustains the sea. The fate of this so-called ecological time bomb and the community that surrounds it remain uncertain, as the Salton Sea might just dry up.

Narrated by cult-movie legend John Waters, Plagues & Pleasures is an epic western tale of fantastic real estate ventures and failed boomtowns, inner-city gang flight to white small town America, and the subjective nature of success and failure amidst the landscape of the American Dream.