Salton Sea rescue to be named for Sonny Bono
Without help, California lake won't support life
January 16, 1998
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (2255 GMT)
SALTON CITY, California (CNN) -- A federal effort to restore California's decaying Salton Sea will be named after the late U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono, who worked to reverse the lake's myriad environmental problems.
A congressional delegation led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich toured the area Friday. Gingrich announced that a bill setting up the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Project will be introduced on Bono's birthday.
His widow, Mary, said that a few weeks before his recent death in a skiing accident, "Sonny said to me that he wanted his legacy to be saving the Salton Sea."
Salton, California's largest lake, was actually formed by an accident about 90 years ago. A break in a Colorado River levee flooded a low-lying desert area in Riverside and Imperial counties.
It became a desert oasis, a thriving tourist attraction that at one time even drew more tourists each year than Yosemite National Park. The lake became a stop for migrating water fowl and a haven for boaters and fisherman.
But by the 1970s, as the sea grew heavy with salt, sewage and agricultural chemicals, disease outbreaks began to kill birds and fish. Tourists stopped coming, as debates raged of what to do about the Salton Sea's woes.
Part of the Salton Sea was in Bono's congressional district, and cleaning up the lake became one of the issues he championed during his two terms in Congress. Bono's death has created bipartisan support for the cleanup project.
The rescue is coming none too soon. Experts predict that if nothing is done, the lake will not support life in 15 years.
Correspondent Jim Hill contributed to this report.