The Salton Sea and Imperial Dam on the Colorado River; working together to prevent future floods!

The huge de-silting ponds, below Imperial Dam on the Colorado River, designed to remove sediment from irrigation water that is fed by gravity into the Imperial Valley.

An abandoned home in Bombay Beach, caused when flood waters reached almost to the home’s ceilings.
Skeleton of luxury trailer home, mired in mud, at Bombay Beach Resort.
The floods of 1976 and 1977, trailer homes under water along former shores of Salton Sea.
The Great Flood of 1906, railroad tracks completely washed out between the filling Salton Sea and the raging Colorado River to the east.

Last week, my article featured our travels from California to Yuma, AZ, our quick visit to Salton Sea Beach, a derelict resort on the southwest end of Salton Sea, and our visit to the Imperial Dam and Desilting Works on the Colorado River.

Several readers asked about the connection of the Salton Sea to the Dams on the Colorado, so thought I would add further detail.  A year earlier, we had toured to the east side of the Salton Sea, and I researched the sad state of the “ghost resorts” we had seen on that side of this immense, land-locked lake.

We found Bombay Beach on the eastside of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach, a former resort community was almost completely destroyed by huge floods in 1976 and 1977.   Skeltons of houses, trailers, abandoned and ruined homes and restaurants located blocks inland from the current seafront makes for a very spooky, depressing visit.

In the late 1800s, the California Development Company built a canal to take water from the Colorado River to irrigate the desert region to the south of the Salton Sink (the Sink was much like Death Valley, 275 feet below sea level, dry, arid and almost no precipitation)  – this area would eventually become known as  the Imperial Valley.

By 1904 and 1905, the canal clogged with sediment; the CDC built a second canal, then a third. Later that year, with what would be determined to be an El Niño weather pattern, the desert Southwest experienced the most rainfall on record.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1906 as a result of a huge flood of the Colorado River – the entire volume of the River ripped down those silted irrigation canals and poured into the Salton Sink, unimpeded for over 18 months, forming a 25 x 35 mile inland ocean, 52 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level!

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, fish were introduced into the Sea and the advent of air conditioning brought big resorts to several of the Sea’s towns: Bombay Beach and others on the east shore, Salton Sea Beach on the west shore.

But then came the new floods.  Tropical storm Kathleen hit the Imperial Valley in 1976, quickly followed by Tropical storm Doreen in 1977.  With nowhere to go but into the Sea, sea levels rose dramatically, inundating these resorts and ruining the local economies.  By the 1980s, these towns were barely hanging on, property values collapsed and owners abandoned properties and left the area.

Today, modern-day ghost towns are the result; only a few hardy hangers-on remain.  The former hope to develop world-class lakeside resorts is just a distant memory!

Today, the Imperial Dam on the Colorado features huge de-silting ponds just below the dam.  The ponds allow the heavy silt of the Colorado to settle out, so that relatively clean water is then fed into the gravity canals that irrigate the vast Imperial Valley – thereby avoiding future silting challenges that once led to the 1970s man-made disaster.

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 south, then I-210 east to I-10 past Palm Springs, south on CA Hwy. 86 to the Salton Sea, then east on I-8 to Yuma and Arizona.

What’s nearby:  To the north of the Salton Sea, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

What to take: Good walking shoes, binoculars and your camera!

For more info: Yuma Chamber of Commerce, 180 W. 1st Street, Yuma; 928.782.2567;

Next week, we continue across Arizona, Texas and to New Orleans.  For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: travel; to contact me,

Happy travels in the west!

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