Our Drying Lake: attraction or is it a threat?

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YLI is My Story

California’s largest lake is drying up fast and it happens to be my backyard. I grew up in the Coachella Valley located in the Imperial County in the far southeast of California. Playing outside during summer nights, I would be wafted with the stench of rotting eggs times a thousands, dying fish and pure fart. It smelled horrible but we got used to it, we weren’t letting it spoil our summer.

I was lucky. Others my age suffered from severe asthma or other respiratory problems. One summer the famous giant-sized “Forever Marilyn” Monroe, well known for traveling around the world in her grandness, was making her stop in Palm Springs, maybe 35 minutes away from Coachella. Me and my brother joked that she farted so badly it stunk the entire valley that summer. “Wow Marilyn, fish and eggs for breakfast again?!?! YUCK!” 

This is the reality for youth in my community and that’s how environmental injustice shows up in my life, quite literally in the air I breathe. The reality is the Salton Sea is drying up and has been drying up since 2003, the year I was born. The ecosystem that once flourished has long collapsed, fishes and birds are dying. The Colorado River that sustains the lake is providing water to cities and farms, and they’ve recently cut the water supply sustaining the lake. It’s drying twice as fast.

The desert winds and drying toxic lake makes for serious health concerns in the air we breathe. Today, asthma cases in youth in the emergency room have been increasing and have gotten worse and will continue to do so. It feels like Sacramento has no idea – it looks like a graveyard of fish bones with a receding water bed fading into itself, an eerie sight, yet the lake lays purposefully nonetheless. 

This lake has the potential to be the beautiful ocean it was 50 years ago. We could restore its habitat to its natural environment and have a place for the community. Instead of staying inside during wind storms watching the dark toxic clouds pick up from the dry lakebed, let’s have an actual lake!! Our community deserves a healthy, safe environment where kids can play outside without it smelling like rotting eggs and farts.

I’ve lived here all my life, normalizing not having the best air, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of not feeling seen or heard as my community continues to get gentrified and still no one looks at the Salton Sea crisis. Kids here shouldn’t have to be dealing with such severe forms of asthma. This calls for justice and initiative but all I’ve seen is heads turned the other way and profit valued more. Community leaders have done as much as they can to see our community thrive but when will the rest of California take the initiative to prioritize our environment and people as well?