Salton Sea Lithium and Geothermal Power Plant Breaks Ground

The dusty Salton Sea witnessed a groundbreaking ceremony on Jan 25. 2024 marking the start of a potentially game-changing lithium extraction project known as Hell's Kitchen 1. This $1.85 billion venture by Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) promises to be the world's first "fully integrated" lithium and renewable power production facility, extracting lithium from underground brine while generating geothermal energy.

California's Lithium Valley, centered around the Salton Sea, holds vast lithium reserves – a critical ingredient for electric vehicle batteries and clean energy storage. Hell's Kitchen 1 aims to tap into this potential, producing 25,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide annually, enough for approximately 415,000 electric vehicle batteries.

This project is touted as a boon for the economically depressed Imperial County, creating an estimated 250 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions with high salaries. Additionally, it's projected to generate nearly $500 million in tax revenue over several decades.

However, the project faces significant scrutiny, particularly regarding its water usage. The Salton Sea basin already suffers from severe water scarcity, and critics like Comite Civico del Valle (CCV) raise concerns about potential overuse of Colorado River water by CTR and nearby projects.

While CTR emphasizes water conservation measures like using recycled water and minimizing evaporation,  it will be important to track how the project manages its water footprint in this already stressed environment. Innovative water treatment and reuse technologies could hold the key to sustainable lithium extraction in the region.

Beyond water usage, CCV expresses concerns about potential air and soil pollution from construction and operations, inadequate environmental impact assessments, and potential harm to the Salton Sea ecosystem. They intend to sue, citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Water Report will continue tracking developments so look for further updates on this project's progress, legal challenges, and its impact on water management in the Lithium Valley.

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Shaina Shay is an accomplished water professional with over a decade of experience in water policy, management, conservation, and community outreach. Her passion for pragmatic information sharing drives her work across the U.S. and Australia, where she has held roles with investor-owned utilities and as a senior water market specialist. Shaina's commitment to the field is reflected in her leadership positions within the American Water Works Association (AWWA), American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the Southern Arizona Water Users Association (SAWUA).