A dying lake could be the site of California’s next gold rush

Salton Sea in California

The wheels of an old farm machine rumble across a field covered in salt crystals and flooded with brine from the Salton Sea, which continues to rise as a result of irrigation, on June 17, 2003, in the Colorado Desert in the southern part of California. The Salton Sea Authority is considering a plan to reduce the salinity of the 376-square-mile lake by capturing and desalting agricultural runoff that flows into the sea from farms in the Imperial Valley, in an effort to reduce salinity and make the water body more habitable for fish and birds along the Pacific flyway. Farmers then reuse the treated water, and more Colorado River water is available for southern California cities, according to the Metropolitan Water District. The Salton Sea area has long been rooted in California’s water wars and is a major stopover for migratory birds. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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The Salton Sea, once a resort destination and now largely overlooked, could be the site of California’s next gold rush, this time involving lithium.

A new study from the US Department of Energy shows that the dying lake, located between the Coachella and Imperial valleys in the southern desert of California, is full of lithium—enough to make batteries for 375 million electric vehicles.

This makes it one of the largest deposits of lithium brine in the world.

Analysts from the University of California, Berkeley measured lithium concentrations in rocks in the Salton Sea and created computer models to estimate its potential production over the next 30 years. They also looked at scenarios for metal recovery, which powers everything from EVs to cell phones and tablets, laptops, tools and vaping devices.

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Their analysis found that, with technological advances, the region could produce more than 3,400 kilotons of lithium and create an economic boom for the region where, according to the US Census Bureau, 21% of the population lives in poverty. .

Lithium In The Salton Sea

For years, experts have known that the ocean contains lithium but until now the government has not estimated how much.

“This report confirms a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a domestic lithium industry at home while also expanding clean, flexible electricity generation,” said Jeff Marootian, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Using American innovation, we can lead a clean energy future, create jobs and a strong domestic supply chain, and improve our national energy security.”

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The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake and was formed when floodwaters from the Colorado River burst an irrigation canal in 1905. Over the years, its water was maintained by irrigation runoff and became more saline. , affecting fish and wildlife.

It is also dying and very dirty.

Researchers from UC Riverside found that the lake has lost about a third of its water in the past 25 years and that the dry lake is “covered in salty, toxic water, turning into dust that causes problems with respiratory of nearby residents.”