Report: Southern California’s Salton Sea Region Holds Vast Lithium Reserves

Imperial County, a quiet agricultural region in the Southern California desert, could become the nation’s leading lithium source.

2 minute read

January 2, 2024, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of Salton Sea, California.

The Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. | Jacob / Adobe Stock

California’s Imperial County, known for the infamously polluted Salton Sea, quirky artist communities, and vast agricultural communities, is suddenly in the national spotlight after a study revealed the region could hold vast reserves of lithium, reports Ariana Bindman in SF Gate. “Imperial County — which now touts itself as Lithium Valley — is sitting on an estimated 3,400 kilotons of lithium, according to the 2023 study authored by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.”

With new federal rules soon to ban the importation of key electric vehicle materials like lithium from China, the news could position the region as a crucial part of the U.S. supply chain.

According to the Berkeley Lab report, the region’s lithium reserves could produce over $7 billion worth of lithium per year, but extraction, which requires significant amounts of water, could be a challenge to the already water-strapped region.

“There’s been little research showing how these lithium mining operations could damage the Imperial County region’s water, air and indigenous cultural sites, according to a 2023 report from Earthworks, an environmental advocacy group.” Meanwhile, local Native American communities have expressed concern about the impact on cultural resources.

Lithium projects could bring an economic boost to the region, which suffers high rates of poverty. “According to a March press release from the county, lithium extraction will be taxed, and 80% of this new revenue stream is to go directly to the county. Senate Bill 125 mandated that the county spend at least 30% of the revenue on projects in local host communities.”

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