California's Salton Sea Crisis Revisited
The issues outlined in the previous article have since dissipated, but a whole new frontier of health issues has emerged. Around the lake, air quality has been consistently sub-par, yielding one of the state's highest asthma rates.
While the region was already facing tricky environmental conditions, they were magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic due to an incredibly at-risk population and the danger of highly contaminated air.
Hospitals were overrun and people were left without adequate resources to live their normal lives. The crisis has also exacerbated the environmental racism and classism that continues to be experienced by families who live around the Salton Sea. This is a detrimental issue that can affect thousands of lives.
However, the problem is being addressed!
In June 2020, Governor Newsom announced that the state would be allocating $47 million of its budget to help the Salton Sea and its neighbouring communities — $28 million to the New River Project to protect vulnerable communities from exposure, as well as $19 million to the North Lake Pilot Project—to design and build a new section of deep water recreational habitat. The idea behind the catalyst is to build momentum and hopefully leverage this momentum to gain even more national attention and funding.
The conflict may be far from over, but this funding, if appropriated correctly, can hopefully usher in a new narrative for the Salton Sea and its surrounding communities.
However, there may be a new narrative for the region, one in the form of a “Lithium Valley”, a strong supporter of California’s present and future in electric vehicles. Just beneath the surface of the Salton Sea is a vast deposit of lithium — a key ingredient of lithium-ion batteries.
A potential booming future for the valley could create jobs in this current disaster of a situation and could edge the United States over foreign competitors such as Chile, Australia, Argentina and China.
While policymakers and business leaders alike have tried to tap into these resources for years, it seems as if there is finally some traction. Governor Newsom signed a bill in September to create a commission to explore the prospects. In addition, firms have paired up with Berkshire Hathaway Energy in order to develop said extraction sites.
As positive as this may seem, at the moment, lithium extraction is slow and inefficient, not to mention the effects it has on the environment. Time after time, lithium extraction has killed wildlife and further polluted wildlife - such as in Tibet, when toxic chemicals were leaked from a mine and an incredible amount of wildlife perished as a result - far from the only time this has occurred.
As stated above, the region is truly in need of a serious cultural shift, but at the moment, this cannot be the way to do it. The Salton River has already created such devastation, and the negative externalities of the project would not outweigh the environmental consequences.
One can only hope that the proper studies are conducted and that the best interest of the citizens of the region is valued. The reality is, no innovation is worth the harming of ecosystems.
Written by Jack Argiro
Edited by Zachary Ostrow, Alexander Fleiss, Michael Ding, Adele Su Yan Teo, Jason Kauppila & Calvin Ma