Southern California breaking news and trends

Salton Sea still suspected as source of Southland stink

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David McNew/Getty Images

Dead palm trees stand at a former yacht club on the shore of the Salton Sea, the biggest lake in California, which has dried up and refilled numerous times.

The source of a rotten aroma that roamed more than a 150 miles across Southern California on Monday is still unconfirmed. Regional officials hope to have air sample analysis results on Tuesday, as the smell continues to subside.

Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, told KPCC:

"Since midnight last night we’ve only had about eight or ten calls of complaints.  Also we have inspectors in the field and they’ve reported some slight to moderate odors so there appear to be some odors present, but nothing like the strength or the widespread dispersion that was present."

Hundreds of complaints were registered Monday, and many pointed to the Salton Sea -- California's largest lake that sits atop the San Andreas fault about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles -- as a possible cause of the olfactory affront. 

Thunderstorms over the weekend could have bothered bacteria from a recent fish die-off and released a terrible stench that then was trapped in low-hanging clouds. Officials weighed in on the situation:

  • 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," adding, "it is highly unusual for odors to remain strong up to 150 miles from their source."
  • Janis Dawson of the Salton Sea Authority said the fish die-off within the past week combined with strong storms in the area Sunday could have churned up the water and unleashed bacteria from the sea floor. 
  • Mark Moede, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said of the massive thunderstorm complex that brought wind gusts up to 60 mph and widespread dust storms, "one of the largest that any of us have ever seen in probably 10 years."
  • Julie Hutchinson, battalion chief at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in Riverside, said the air was clear on Tuesday and her agency hadn't received any calls or complaints.

Air samples were taken from the Salton Sea, Coachella Valley, and nearly a dozen cities across the region.


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