State, Federal Leaders Discuss Future Of Salton Sea & Impact To Surrounding Communities

Carmela Karcher

“We all know that the Salton Sea is the source of these health issues and we need our representatives to act now,” North Shore Resident Conchita Pozar shared.

Progress continues on turning the Salton Sea into Lithium Valley.

State lawmakers and federal officials are focusing on the future of the Salton Sea with many saying the lithium deposits could change the economic landscape of the Coachella and Imperial Valley.

“Today’s meeting was historic because we have the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee here,” Congressman Raul Ruiz (CA-25) said. “I wanted him to see firsthand and hear from the communities, local communities, who work around the Salton Sea in order to continue the momentum and build the plan necessary for the investments in working with the Salton Sea and the Lithium Valley economy that we’re producing.”

Wednesday, Congressman Ruiz invited lawmakers from Arizona and the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo to the roundtable discussion in North Shore.

There they reviewed longstanding ideas on how to successfully build Lithium Valley and the current conditions of the Salton Sea.

Most importantly, they heard more on the hazardous impacts the area has created around the community for decades.

“Now that the lake is drying up, we as residents do not know what impacts the lithium will have on our health,” Pozar continued. “We have also heard that the extraction of lithium will create new jobs and boost the economy but where are the opportunities for the residents of this area who will directly face the impacts of this process?”

The sea formed over 100 years ago when a portion of the Colorado River burst through a canal.

The body of water turned into a recreation area for valley residents complete with a yacht club but years of contamination from run off and neglect turned the water toxic.

The sea was thought to be a total loss until lithium deposits were discovered underground.

By hearing firsthand from those who live in the area, officials from the local to national level understand what’s at risk if Lithium Valley isn’t done the right way.

“The local reality is that this district is the most under-resourced district, the highest poverty level, that is facing the biggest public health impact around the Salton Sea,” Congressman Ruiz explained. “Therefore, any federal state investment that comes into promoting the Lithium Valley has to address the social conditions of the local communities and that point has been taken away from other dignitaries that I brought here.”

“We’re dealing with the situation that didn’t appear yesterday,” Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member and Congressman Raul Grijalva (AZ-07) shared. “ What’s going on at the Salton Sea has been known and as it recedes, it creates more exposure and more problems for the community in general, and for the industry as a whole that dominates this region, which is agriculture.”

“The potential that it could be a source for clean energy, i.e. lithium, how do you extract that? How do you make sure that there’s a direct benefit to the communities as a whole here,” Congressman Grijalva continued. “I really believe that the public input and the people have to be at the table, not at the table to serve lunch, but at the table to talk. People in this community need to be there.”

Congressman Ruiz said he hopes it will create a domestic supply of lithium batteries focused in the eastern Coachella Valley and said the key is to make sure it doesn’t just benefit big companies, but investments and opportunities for the communities that are the most under-resourced in the state.

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