Today’s “Big Stink” could be harbinger of smelly things to come

A surprisingly large portion of Southern California got an unpleasant encounter with “The Big Stink” on Monday, a rotten-egg-like smell emanating from the Salton Sea following a strong, windy storm Sunday night.

Those not used to the Sea’s occasional foul smells were calling 911 in Los Angeles County to report it, according to media reports, and it was smelled as far away as Simi Valley in Ventura County.

Get used to it, said Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels, the former executive director of the Salton Sea Authority. Such waves of stench may become far more common region-wide, he said.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

“If the State does not implement the Salton Sea Restoration Plan as required by the Agreement for the Use of the Colorado River and the Sea dies, this odor will be an everyday occurrence somewhere in SoCal depending upon which way the wind blows.”

Timothy Krantz, a professor in the University of Redlands’ Environmental Studies Program who studies the troubled lake, said the smell comes not from dead fish necessarily, but from accumulated sulphur dioxide stored up in the sea’s depths as algae blooms and then decays.

“The Sea accumulates sulphur dioxide at depth during the summer months,” he said. “Then, when we get a wind event, such as yesterday’s southeasterly ‘Chubasco’ blowing up from the Gulf of California, it pushes the surface waters off, causing upwelling of the bottom sulphurous water layers, hence the rotten egg smell.  One more reason why we need to ‘fix’ the Sea.”

Compounding the event, Krantz added, was that the sulphur dioxide was able to build up over time, and the evaporating sea’s declining depths — at its peak it was up to 51 feet deep but now is only around 43 feet deep — make it easier for that deeper water layer holding back the rotten-egg smell to come to the surface.

“Shades of things to come?” he said.  “At least it’s not laden with PM10 or micro-particulates.  That would be worse.  But for now, its just smelly.”