Bombay Beach

Welcome to
Bombay Beach

The Salton Sea, California's largest lake, was actually created by accident just after the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, a series of canals were constructed to divert water from the Colorado River into what was then called the Salton Sink for the purpose of irrigation, and for a few years farms were developed. Unfortunately, the Imperial Canal was soon filled with silt blockages from the Colorado River and after a particularly wet winter in 1905, the Colorado River breached its banks and began flooding into the canal and eventually through dry ravines, creating the Alamo and New Rivers. These new rivers ultimately drained into the Salton Sink - from which there is no outlet. Efforts were made to stop the flooding, but were not successful until early 1907; for nearly two years, the entire contents of the Colorado River inundated the Salton Sink, creating the Salton Sea. This disaster later helped lead to the construction of Hoover Dam, which helps control the flow of the Colorado River.

It wasn't long before developers realized that the new freshwater sea combined with the warm climate would create prime real estate as a resort destination. A number of communities would later develop around the Sea, including Bombay Beach. The Bombay Beach townsite was originally created by R.E. Gilliagan on October 8, 1929. By the 1950s and 60s, Bombay Beach and other resort communities thrived at what was nicknamed the "Salton Riviera."

Unfortunately, this prosperity would prove to be finite. Bombay Beach took a hit in 1976 when a tropical storm caused water to rise, submerging the south end of town. A levee was built to protect the town, but it too created problems during heavy rains when the town couldn't drain into the sea. Another, larger, problem was the rapid increase in salinity and pollution in the Salton Sea. With no outflow, the Salton Sea has absorbed ancient salt deposits from the ground below leading to water saltier than the ocean. In addition, agricultural runoff that feeds the lake has caused it to experience several algal blooms, which depletes oxygen in the water. As early as the 1960s, some species of fish and birds at the Salton Sea began to die off. By the 1970s, dead fish were washing up on the shore and the now-everpresent stench of the lake led to a quick decline in tourism. Many of the communities around the lake quickly shrank as denizens moved on.

Today, Bombay Beach (which is also the lowest community in the United States with an elevation of 223 feet below sea level) has a population of less than 300. A number of abandoned bungalows and mobile homes are scattered around the town, but even still a bar is open to serve those passing through. The ruins have long been a popular photography spot, and in recent years Bombay Beach has attracted artists who come to create and express themselves in the desert sun. This has even given rise to an annual event called the Bombay Beach Biennale. Today, a walk along the shoreline makes for a somewhat surreal experience: what looks like white sands along an idyllic coast gives way to the noxious odor of the Sea and the gleaming white sands are quickly revealed to be finely eroded fish bones. Meanwhile, eccentric art installations from the Biennale can be found throughout town.

I Visited Bombay Beach
4.8.2018 & 2.23.2020

See Also
North Shore

Bibliography