Last updated at 15:43 BST, Thursday, 13 September 2012

Californian stink!

Summary

13 September 2012

Air quality inspectors in southern California have traced a terrible smell which wafted 150 miles towards Los Angeles, to an inland sea created by mistake a hundred years ago when the entire Colorado River was accidentally diverted into the desert for 18 months. Recent unusual weather has spread the unpleasant odour, prompting hundreds of complaint calls.

Reporter:

Alastair Leithead

Dead fish at Salton Sea, California

Salton Sea - California's biggest lake

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The complaint calls came in as people wondered where the overwhelming odour was coming from. Air quality officials went searching for the sulphur smell, checking rubbish dumps, refineries and the usual suspects.

But finally the stink was linked to the Salton Sea - the state's biggest lake - created by mistake a century ago when water irrigation engineers accidentally diverted the entire Colorado River into the desert for 18 months. Fed since then by fertiliser-laden irrigation run-off water, the sea suffers periodic booms and busts of life. Millions of fish recently perished and stormy weather whipped up the stink from the bottom of the shallow lake and spread the smell of rotten eggs 150 miles.

"It was a very large and unusual odour event", the air quality inspectors informed the public, but now the wind's changed and much of southern California is smelling sweetly once again.

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Vocabulary

overwhelming

very strong

odour

smell

refineries

industrial plants for purifying crude substances, such as petroleum

the usual suspects

the places most people would expect

mistake

error

fertiliser-laden

full of fertiliser

periodic

occasional

perished

died

whipped up

stirred up

informed

told or announced to