News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.
Environment & Science

#ISeeChange at the Salton Sea: Dropping levels, growing salt, and drought worries




Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Ambrose Smith of Salton City applauds as Randy Brown arrives for lunch and a swim at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Smith, who has lived near the Salton Sea for nine years, has been following Brown's journey all week.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Darryl Monroe, right, greets Randy Brown before lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Monroe has been following Brown's walk online and came to the lunch to show support.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown first decided on the Salton Sea because he used to camp there as a kid. Brown was looking for a challenge and found that no one had successfully walked the shoreline of the Salton Sea.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown's trip will take six days in more than 100-degree weather. Brown plans to walk about 10 to 20 miles each day. It is more than 100 miles around the Salton Sea.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown says the most challenging part of the walk will be what he calls "Death Beach," a nine-mile stretch towards the end of his journey. The shoreline in this part is covered with dead barnacle shells. Brown says it's like trudging through snow.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
A flyer advertises a celebration on the final day of Randy Brown's six-day walk around the Salton Sea. Brown starts and ends his trip at the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club in North Shore, Calif.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown makes a stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown's father-in-law follows him during the trip with a motor home where Brown and his support team sleep at night.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown goes for a swim in more than 100-degree weather at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse while taking a break during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown says he hopes to bring attention to the sea through doing the walk.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown goes for a swim at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse while taking a break during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown made scouting missions to the sea leading up to his walk.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Randy Brown, left, is greeted by Mary Kay House, before Brown's stop for lunch at Vista Del Mar Clubhouse during his six-day walk around the Salton Sea on Friday, June 12, 2015. Brown is attempting to be the first person to ever walk around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, California's largest lake.
Randy Brown is working with a documentary film team during his six-day journey by foot around the Salton Sea.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


Listen to story

03:48
Extra Audio:
Download this story 7.0MB

An Inland Empire man on Sunday set an obscure record: Randy Brown walked 116 miles around the shoreline of the Salton Sea, the first person to do so.

The Salton Sea is not actually a sea. It's a salty lake few Californians know about, in a sunken part of the Colorado Desert that has cycled between dry and wet times over millions of years.

Brown is part of a community of people at the southern end of the Coachella Valley who have been observing up close the sea’s receding shores. About two dozen of those locals gathered at the Vista del Mar Clubhouse, also known as The Dome, to greet Brown halfway through his journey last Friday.

Buffeted by a gentle breeze, basking in 100-degree heat, Brown’s supporters grilled burgers and hot dogs, sipped soda and joked as the ice in their drinks instantly melted.

What they don’t find funny is the dropping lake elevation. “I put a stake out there seven years ago when I first came out here. And it’s probably 200 to 300 feet below where I put the stake,” said Skeeter Malcolm, the clubhouse caretaker and chief burger flipper. “So I seen it for myself.”

This lake was created over a century ago, accidentally. Agricultural runoff is the Salton Sea’s major source. A complicated agreement among water agencies, San Diego and the state of California took more water away from the sea in 2003 – essentially putting the sea on life support. This agreement’s imminent expiration, and the state’s slow steps towards a promised recovery, have Brown and his friends feeling protective of their incomplete, inhospitable and desolate landscape.

He sees plenty walking along the shore. “The first thing I noticed was how much it changed from the time I was there camping here as a kid versus now. In 30 years, the water has dropped hundreds of yards, a quarter of a mile in some places,” Brown says. “I’ve noticed the place basically kind of dying. So everything from abandoned buildings and dried marines. It makes me sad, all around.”

The lake is now twice as salty as the Pacific. Swimming in the Salton Sea can leave a fine coat of brine shrimp on your skin. Dead fish rot in the heat. So instead on Friday, Brown and his friends cooled off in the clubhouse pool.  

Brown hit his share of speed bumps along the way. Unexpected rain on the first day created unexpected mud. He spent another day pressing forward around canals and rivers, and part of the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Throughout his trip, he carried spare socks, shoes and 25 pounds of water.

“I gotta stay dry on the outside and hydrated on the inside,” he said.  

The most tortuous stretch of his six-day walk came near the end, in an area he calls Death Beach.

“Part of the reason is because the shoreline is so covered with dead barnacle shells. It’s like a foot deep, so it’s like you step into them and it goes up to your ankles. it’s like going up a StairMaster for miles,” he said. “Then sometimes you get unlucky, and your foot drops through that dead barnacles into wet stinky water.”

He says it’s almost too hot to think out there, which is the part of the challenge. “I like to say that nobody wants to see the daredevil jump his motorcycle over just one bus; they want to see him jump it over 20 busses.”

Randy’s dare started out personal. Six years ago he began walking more, for his health. This walk became his “dream-adventure.” Today, he calls the Salton Sea hot, humid, smelly, dirty and lonely.

“But I also notice the beauty,” he says. “The clouds and the sunsets. I don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful sunset than from the east side of Salton Sea.”

The drought wasn’t why he walked – but Brown says it makes his cause more urgent. The quantification settlement agreement governing water among the Imperial Irrigation District and San Diego County is up in two years. After that, the fate of the sea is unclear.

“Yeah, You think about water. and that’s now a problem cause we need that water. We need it! Well, what about Salton Sea, what are we going to do?” he said.

What Randy Brown wants is for people to pay attention to the Salton Sea the way he does.

#ISeeChange is a national effort to track how climate change is affecting our daily lives. 

Notice any bugs in your backyard lately? Wondering why you're seeing coyotes where you don't expect? Seen changes in your favorite tide pool? Snap a picture and tag it @KPCC and #ISeeChange on Twitter or Instagram, let us know through our Public Insight Network, or post your questions on www.iSeeChange.org. Then see what others have found and observed in their environment.