Salton Sea possible source of Calif.'s big stink
A fallen tree supports numerous heron nests in the mud of Southern California's Salton Sea in this Dec. 27, 2010 file photo. / AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
(AP) SANTA ANA, Calif. - Noses across Southern California were hoping for a sweeter-smelling Tuesday as public officials sought a solid answer for what made Monday so pungent.
One answer appeared far more likely than any other: The weather-aided waft of a fish die-off from the Salton Sea.
But even as officials said several factors indicate the Salton Sea as the source of the sulfurous smell, air quality investigators stopped short of declaring with certainty that the saltwater lake 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles was the cause.
Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said in a statement late Monday that "there is not yet any definitive evidence to pinpoint the Salton Sea or any other source yet."
One reason for doubt, the statement said, is that "it is highly unusual for odors to remain strong up to 150 miles from their source."
The smell was reported as far away as Palmdale and Lancaster, more than 150 miles north of the Salton Sea. The dying sea had a fish die-off within the past week and that, combined with strong storms in the area Sunday, could have churned up the water and unleashed bacteria from the sea floor that caused the stench, said Janis Dawson of the Salton Sea Authority.
A strengthening onshore breeze Tuesday may dissipate lingering odors closer to the coast, the South Coast air quality district said.
That would be a relief to residents from Riverside County to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, who lit up switchboards and social media to make a stink of the stink. The district was flooded with more than 200 complaints Monday from across much of its 10,000 square miles.
"The odor was extremely intense," Dawson said. "We actually thought that somebody had an accident, a broken sewage main."
Jack Crayon, an environmental scientist at California's Department of Fish and Game, said he recognized the smell as the typical odor when winds churn up the sea's waters and pull gases from the decomposition of fish or other organisms up to the surface.
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