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Gov. Newsom visits Salton Sea for update on lithium production

Governor Gavin Newsom joined local leaders Monday morning for a visit to Imperial Valley.

Newsom visited a Geothermal Plant near the beleaguered Salton Sea to get an update on progress being made toward lithium production.

"We're witnessing another moment in history with the creation of California Silicon Valley right here," Newsom said.

Watch his full remarks in the player below:

Rod Colwell, CEO of Controlled Thermal Resources, said as production of lithium in Imperial Valley scales up they'll make enough of it to support 5 million electric vehicles per year. 

"With those 5 million EVs, on the road we lose 1.95 billion gallons of gasoline per year. That's equivalent to 23 million metric tons of co2 from exhaust pipe emissions," Colwell said.

Lithium is the material essential to battery production. Imperial Valley contains some of the largest lithium deposits in the world, specifically underground near the Salton Sea, a region also known as Lithium Valley.

Officials said this is the cleanest way of extracting lithium. The process is called an optimization plan and it's used to bring that brine up from over 8000 feet underground and clean it and those emissions at the top  --that steam used to cool off that lithium official stress. It's a closed-loop system, which they say means big environmental impacts to the community surrounding our minimum.

"What assurances can you give to these underserved communities that these corporations are not going to come in and create further environmental disaster," Jake Ingrassia asked Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, who represents parts of the Coachella Valley

"The regional water board, the air quality district that covers this area, they can continue to monitor this lithium recovery process. So those are the backstops and the revenues coming in, are guaranteed to help improve the quality of life of this region," Garcia said.

The project is expected to add between 10,000 and 12,000 green jobs which officials say will come with infrastructure and community resources and they strongly emphasized addressing concerns about bringing community members to the table.

"There needs to be a lot of communication, which I'm going to ensure that the companies speak with the local communities and the environmental justice groups," said Congressman Raul Ruiz.

"The state needs to not only take ownership and responsibility but it's got to take the initiative to do more and meet the expectations of this community that have been completely torn asunder by the environmental degradation that has occurred for too long," Newsom said.

Newsom also said that the tax collected from lithium recovery will go back to the community with 80 percent going right back into Imperial County while the other 20 percent will go toward Salton Sea environmental mitigation.

Check Out Our Award-Winning Coverage on the Issues at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea was once a top tourist destination, attracting some of old Hollywood's biggest names, but over the past few decades, it's become an ecological disaster. Evaporation and agricultural runoff have exposed toxins in the lakebed and created a perfect environment for dangerous algae blooms and bacteria to thrive.

As the lake recedes, dust from the exposed toxic soil below, rich with farm pesticides, increases. Figures from a USC Environmental Health Centers and Aire Study estimate the amount of dust in the air will increase exponentially as the lake dries up, more than doubling from 2020 to 2025.

The lake has caused health issues for many residents who live near the lake. The rate of asthma hospitalizations for kids living at the southern end of the lake is more than double the state's number, according to the California Environmental Health Tracking Program.

“This is an environmental crisis that not only impacts the ecology of the region, but the people as well. Communities near the Salton Sea are at breaking point,” said Senator Padilla. “By unifying all of the conservation projects surrounding the Sea, we can streamline .efforts and bring about necessary change faster.”

Officials with the Salton Sea Partnership, comprised of Alianza Coachella Valley, Audubon California, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Pacific Institute and Sierra Club California, said they applaud Padilla for introducing the bill and looks forward to working with him on this important legislation during this session.  

“The creation of a conservancy at the Salton Sea to oversee the acquisition and management of land, create infrastructure and act as a responsible steward of wildlife habitat areas is long overdue,” said Frank Ruiz, director of the Salton Sea Program for Audubon California, a member of the Salton Sea Partnership. “As many different entities come together to slow the Sea’s decline, coordination and communication are essential, and we thank Sen. Padilla for working to further that.” 

News Channel 3 Morning Anchor Angela Chen has been covering the issues surrounding the Salton Sea for years, including the environmental and health aspects of the looming ecological disaster.

Check out the Emmy award-winning Troubled Waters: The Salton Sea Project

  • Part 1: Paradise Lost - Angela looks back at the history of the Salton Sea. Find out its connection to Spanish explorers, and how it went from one of the most popular destinations to abandoned and on the verge of disaster
  • Check Out Part 2- Toxic Exposure: Angela goes in-depth on the history of toxic outbreaks at the Salton Sea and its connection to the current health issues of those who live near the lake
  • Part 3: A Lake Languished - Angela look at the millions spent over the years to save the Salton Sea and why there is so little progress to show for it
  • Part 4: Salton Sea Plea - There are massive environmental problems at the Salton Sea, but after decades of neglect, could the lake's unique location be part of the solution in saving it? Angela highlights the movement happening to save the

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Article Topic Follows: Salton Sea

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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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Crystal Jimenez

Crystal Jimenez is a news reporter who joined the KESQ News Channel 3 team in June 2021. Learn more about Crystal here.

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Marian Bouchot

Marian Bouchot is the weekend morning anchor and a reporter for KESQ News Channel 3. Learn more about Marian here.


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