Don’t write off this story yet

  • Paul Larmer

 

You know you have been working somewhere for a long time when your colleagues start coming to you for "institutional knowledge." On the one hand, it's kind of flattering to be the person who knows why the toilet sometimes clogs up (our connection to the sewer line has always been susceptible to debris dams), and who also knows the name of a plumber who can snake the system out on short notice (happy to give it to you if you move to Paonia).

But institutional knowledge can also be an impediment. When a young editor pitches a story about, say, salmon runs on the Snake River, I find myself reflexively shooting it down - "Oh, we don't want to do that. I already wrote a cover story about it." Only later, after searching the archives, do I discover why my colleagues fixed me with such vacant stares: I wrote that story back in 1996. Even our most loyal readers, the ones who keep piles of old HCNs in their garages and bathrooms alongside boxes of National Geographics, have likely forgotten my majestic prose and would appreciate a fresh take on the subject.

I went through a similar process when Terry Greene Sterling first pitched this issue's cover story on the Salton Sea. Contributing editor Michelle Nijhuis did a fine piece on Southern California's accidental inland sea back in 2000. What more was there to say? Plenty, it turns out. Seven years ago, Salton Sea boosters were cautiously optimistic that federal and state money would pump new life into the drying, irrigation-fed body of water and the struggling tourism and retirement economy it supports. Today, that optimism is largely gone, buried under the realities of a cash-strapped California government, thirsty cities that are siphoning off the Sea's water source, and a busted real estate market. No one seems able to conjure the monetary or political capital needed to revive a multibillion-dollar restoration plan.

Amid the signs of decay, though, Terry found a plucky group of survivors, every bit as colorful and quirky as the Salton Sea itself. Their stories strike a melancholic chord not often heard in this noisy West of ours. They remind us that nothing lasts forever, and that the West of the future may look in places more like the West of the past, when massive changes turned prosperous boomtowns into forsaken ghost towns.

If the Salton Sea dies, most of its people will disappear as well. And this could be the final chapter in the life of the Salton Sea. But I have a hunch - based on extensive institutional knowledge - that I could be wrong. Look for another Salton Sea story here in seven years.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.