Firms say what’s underneath the Salton Sea could fuel a green-energy boom. But struggling residents have heard such claims before
S tanding atop a pockmarked red mesa, Rod Colwell looks out at an expanse of water that resembles a thin blue strip on the horizon. The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, has come and gone at least five times in the last 1,300 years, most recently in 1905, when floodwaters from the Colorado River refilled its basin.
A mid-century resort destination, the lake has since become an environmental disaster zone. Its waters, long fed by pesticide-laden runoff from nearby farms, have been steadily evaporating, exposing a dusty shoreline that kicks up lung-damaging silt into the surrounding communities of the Imperial Valley, where rates of asthma are alarmingly high.
But as disastrous as the disappearing Salton Sea is, powerful people believe that a vast reserve of lithium locked beneath it and the surrounding area holds the key to flipping the region’s fortunes.