As part of the 2023 CA Forward Economic Summit held in the Coachella Valley October 11-13, Eduardo Garcia, California Assemblyman for District 36, introduced local regional and state leaders to what is referred to as Lithium Valley.
The Bottom Line: Today, the United States has only 1% of global lithium being mined and processed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The earth deep below the southern portion of the Salton Sea, which is located in Imperial County, is rich in hot, mineral-abundant geothermal brine that contains some of the world’s largest deposits of lithium. It is estimated that Imperial County may hold as much as fifteen million metric tons of lithium, in addition to other rare minerals.
The Opportunity: Geothermal production at the Salton Sea may expand to between 1,500MW and 3,000MW over the next 10-15 years. A “Lithium Valley” in Imperial County would establish California as a global production hub that could employ thousands of workers and propel the economic future of Imperial and Coachella Valley residents for generations to come. Geothermal production and lithium/rare-mineral mining are combined industry activities.
More from Assemblyman Garcia’s remarks at the Summit:
As the US transitions into a decarbonized economy, its heavy reliance on reporting lithium from foreign countries robs us of the opportunity to pair climate change and transportation goals with the creation of high-quality green jobs. Today represents a critical decision on the pathway to creating enormous economic opportunities for the state of California, but most importantly to our region which has faced one of the highest unemployment rates in the state for decades.
Developing California’s Lithium Valley can help the state meet its climate goals, its emission reduction goals by anchoring the domestic battery supply chain, serving transportation, electrification and stationary energy storage for grid-scale and distributed systems.
Assemblyman Garcia believes the full economic vision of lithium goes beyond lithium recovery and positioning California to become a global leader in battery production and EV manufacturing. It has also been crucial to ensure that local community members have had a pivotal role in the conversation about developing this Lithium Valley mission.
“One of the things we did several years ago was develop a Lithium Valley Commission in order to create a space for our local organizations and stakeholders up and down the state of California to tell us whether or not this vision could actually come to fruition,” said Garcia. “The end product was a roadmap with 14 suggestions, not only to look at how you minimize and mitigate the impacts of lithium recovery in the region, but also how you make sure that the direct beneficiaries are the local community residents.”
The goals and objectives that the community has set in this Lithium Valley Commission report to ensure that the direct beneficiaries of this effort are the residents of Imperial County and Eastern Riverside County could benefit as well.
“A structure was developed by the state of California, thanks to the leadership of Gavin Newsom and his administration, where we’ve now set forward a path not only to recover lithium in the region but to actually turn it into an entire ecosystem for purposes of economic development and improving the long-lasting and unemployment economic challenges that this region has had,” added Garcia.
California in the last several years has made an unprecedented investment in this region and its water infrastructure, and housing infrastructure, yet there’s a lot more work to be done. This region, and particularly Imperial County, is on the map as it relates to the disparities that have taken place, including the lack of investment that’s taken place over several decades. And the leadership of the region has been working very closely with the state of California unlike ever before.
The locals are taking the initiative and holding their elected representatives at the state level accountable to make sure that these resources are making their way back to this region of the state.
Now, all of a sudden, the Imperial Valley isn’t just talked about in the context of the highest region for unemployment. It’s now being talked about in the context of being critical to helping California meet its climate goals, renewable energy goals, and our sustainability vision for California.