SALTON SEA — Hundreds of thousands of rotting fish have been found along the shoreline of California's largest lake in a rare winter die-off because of last month's cold snap.
It's unclear how many of the estimated 200 million fish in the Salton Sea died, but many were floating Friday. Officials said they started noticing the dead fish about two weeks ago.
Water temperatures that dropped to the high 50s and lower 60s were blamed for the die-off, said California Department of Fish and Game biologist Jack Crayon.
Gabe Jensen, a Salton City resident since 1997, said the situation was "the worst I've ever seen."
"The fish are just terrible," Jensen said. "I just got over a cancer treatment and the smell's not helping me."
Residents may be the ones who have to handle the mess. Funding for the sea's fish-kill cleanups was cut last year when the Salton Sea Authority eliminated a contract for a boat that scooped up dead fish before they reached shore.
"Nobody had any money" to give, said Rick Daniels, the authority's executive director.
The authority now coordinates regular voluntary cleanups, using tools like pitchforks and garbage cans, Daniels said. The next scheduled cleanup isn't until March 10.
The Salton Sea is a 35-mile-long lake stretching across the Imperial and Riverside county line. It faces an uncertain future largely because of agreements sending water to more populated San Diego.
Experts believe the lake, already dependent on water flows to balance high salinity, is on a perilous track threatening the health of wildlife and humans in the area.