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SPECIAL REPORT: Lithium Valley – Recovery metal from the Salton Sea

Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) shares plans to extract lithium from the large body of water - 13 On Your Side's Anchor Vince Ybarra reports

SALTON CITY, Calif. (KECY, KYMA) - The Salton Sea, a body of water created from a 1905 spill over from the Colorado River.

The Imperial Irrigation District says in recent years, things like sewage and pesticides along with arsenic exposure have made it a toxic hazard for locals in the surrounding area.

The body of water stretches some 34 miles long and now a new company Controlled Thermal Resources also know CTR has spent about $50 millions to use the Salton Sea to extract lithium.

Lithium is a naturally occurring chemical element used to power batteries in electric vehicles, and so much more. 

Rod Colwell the CEO of CTR says it’s a geothermal treasure of opportunity.

“We’re eight thousand to 15 thousand feet below us where we’re standing right here is one of the largest lithium brine geothermal resources on the planet…if not the largest,” said Colwell.

Colwell says the Salton Sea is one of the most studied areas of land in the entire world due to lithium. Putting the body of water on the map for containing this special metal.

So how do they extract lithium from the Salton Sea?

“You bring up hot brine from deep down…hot water that has a lot of minerals in that water,” butt sot “and then we recover the lithium,” said Colwell.

Colwell says once lithium is recovered, the water is pumped back into the ground. Every gallon of water gets recycled up to eight times. The water that goes back into the ground will collect lithium over the course of 64 years, and after that time has passed, that water can be pulled from the ground and you can collect lithium again.

This process is expansive…and not all are on board like North Shore resident Patricia Leal-Gutierrez.

“When we’re thinking about lithium and extraction, even though the process will be different…we still don’t know the underlying consequences of it,” said Leal-Gutierrez.

I asked Colwell about community concerns like hers. He says CTR's process of recovering lithium is very green.

"There’s no waste product with this. There’s not land fill with this. In fact…the brine never touches the atmosphere once,” said Colwell.

Colwell says countries like Chile, also extract lithium but they do it by creating evaporation ponds… Bringing brine to the surface, a potential harm to the environment.

He understands the concern but stresses there are no toxic gases and everything is done underground, making this project safe for not only employees extracting lithium but also people living around the Salton Sea.

This new project is something Salton City resident Debra Schultz is excited for, specifically the economic opportunity.

“I think it’s going to create a lot more jobs for people,” said Schultz. “It’s going to benefit everyone."

Schultz says she trusts companies like CTR and she understands how valuable lithium is.

“Lithium is like, it’s gold. We’re…we’re on it,” said Schultz.

Schultz hopes this brings more housing to the area.And colwell says….Mining lithium is going to do just that.

“We purchased four lots now in calipat, we have 42 apartments under way for affordable housing. All of that has to be considered, you can’t just create all these jobs and there’s nowhere for people to live work and play,” said Colwell.

Colwell says this project is about more than just extracting lithium. He says c-t-r’s mission is to also take care of the folks doing the work. Colwell says creating communities with better schools is also in the works.

“Where can you go anywhere in California where you have the mountains in one window and the sea in the other and the sunshine is non-stop,” said Schultz.

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Vince Ybarra

Vince Ybarra joined KYMA in June 2021 and is a CBS 13 anchor.

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