How Not To: Build an Inland Sea

When Life Gives You Massive River Flooding, Make Lemonade
In a fit of early 1900s nature-subduing enthusiasm, the good people of California decided to turn Imperial Valley (a desert) into a vast agricultural paradise (not a desert). To do so, they started cutting irrigation channels from the Colorado River. When those filled up with silt, they cut a little deeper, digging out a large gap in the River's bank to increase flow. Then, in 1905, the floods came, washing out the engineered canal and pouring thousands of gallons of water directly from the River into a previously dry below-sea-level basin. It took two years to get the flooding under control, by which point the basin had become a lake—the Salton Sea. In 1907 the first sport fish were imported and a tourist attraction was born.

Put Your Trust in Runoff

With the broken canals now repaired, the Salton Sea had no inlet or outlet. Instead, all it's water came from farm irrigation runoff. At first, nobody saw this as a problem. Then the Sea's salinity (and pollution levels) started to increase. Turns out, farmers were pulling water from the Sea, putting it on their crops, and letting it flow back in. Each time, the water picked up a little more salt and a few more pesticide chemicals. Eventually, this led to outbreaks of algae, massive fish die-offs, and a salinity level greater than the Pacific Ocean.

Assume You Won't Have To Deal With More Flooding In the Future

By the 1960s, regardless of its increasingly salty nature, the Salton Sea had become one of California's busiest tourist attractions and it's most popular state park. Investors built swanky resorts, but, unfortunately, nobody thought to build flood control systems. Then came 1976, when a tropical storm hit the area, marking the beginning of seven years of extra-heavy rains. Most of the new developments ended up underwater or bankrupt as investors bailed. Worse, increased runoff meant that even more chemicals and salt poured into the Sea. By the 1980s, there was little left of the once-thriving fishing and boating industries. Today, the Sea is home to several half-flooded trailer-park communities and one thriving bird sanctuary. Still ever saltier, it's expected to lose most of its fish population in the next few years.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


More from mental floss studios