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Leaders urge public participation in Salton Sea lithium extraction planning

Local leaders and energy representatives are calling on the public to take part in planning surrounding lithium extraction at the Salton Sea.

The message came after multi-day summit at UCR Palm Desert, where more than 200 people met to discuss issues facing the Salton Sea, which could soon become the largest source of lithium in the world.

Officials say before tapping into the mine of so-called "white gold," local residents should have a say.

"The community is really interested, not only in having answers to their questions, but just learning more," said Mariela Loera with the Leadership Counsel.

Jonathan Weisgall with Berkshire Hathaway Energy said a key benefit is job creation.

"We're looking at lithium development in an extraordinarily disadvantaged community," Weisgall said. "I think the benefit the county will see in lithium production, to put it simply, is upward mobility – the possibility for good-paying jobs for an entire career."

Those jobs include chemists, electricians, plant operators and environmental scientists. They would be recruited from schools that include College of the Desert and even local high schools, Weisgall said.

But officials want the surrounding communities to be involved in the decision-making process.

"in a community that is dealing with a lot of water issues and many other air quality issues, I think we need to be mindful," said Frank Ruiz with Audobon California. "We need to take the really smart approach."

And there is a push for the cleanup of the Salton Sea to be a byproduct of lithium production there.

"As residents, as someone like myself, that live around the Salton Sea, I think we would like to see some kind of direct benefit in terms of funding."

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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