Fact Sheet

Regulatory Program - Hell's Kitchen Project Imperial County, CA

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District
Published April 20, 2023

The Hell’s Kitchen Project (HKP) area is comprised of approximately 1,550 acres located along the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea (sea) near the city of Niland, Imperial County, California (Lat33.234664°, Long -115.589108°). The HKP area is located within the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area (SSKGRA), which currently encompasses the second largest geothermal field in the United States. This area has the potential to be the largest when fully developed. There are currently 11 existing plants within this area producing geothermal energy.

The sea has been receding for decades. Interstate legal actions and agreements related to water rights have reduced hydrologic inputs into the sea, substantially hastening the rate of its shoreline recession. The result in many locations, including the HKP area, is that lands formerly under water have transitioned to exposed lakebed that support the development of freshwater wetlands. Most of the agricultural drains that used to flow directly into the sea now terminate on the exposed lakebed and provide sufficient freshwater hydrology to support these wetlands. The HKP area is therefore largely comprised of wetlands.

Since 2017, Regulatory has been engaged with Controlled Thermal Resources Limited (CTR), a public, unlisted company headquartered in Imperial Valley, CA and Brisbane, Australia, on several actions related to the development of joint geothermal/lithium recovery facilities within the SSKGRA.

Specifically, CTR intends to develop test wells and a production facility that would produce geothermal energy and battery grade lithium, the first of its kind in the area.

(1) Permit Applications: (a) In June 2018, the Corps verified applicability of nationwide permit 51 associated with an exploratory test well (Well Pad 1). (b) The Corps received a permit application for the proposed Well Pad 4 Exploratory Well and S Berm Project in August 2018. The Well Pad 4 project involves the construction of an exploratory well pad and associated access road improvements and would result in the permanent loss of approximately eight acres of potentially jurisdictional wetlands. The Corps withdrew the initial permit application on 18 November 2019, due to a lack of response from the applicant after the Corps requested additional information. CTR resubmitted a permit application on 23 August 2021, which was withdrawn on 21 October 2021, due to a lack of response from the applicant after the Corps requested additional information. CTR
submitted its most recent permit application on 15 February 2022. The Corps withdrew that permit application on 4 November 2022, due to a lack of response from the applicant after requesting additional information. CTR would be required to offset any unavoidable adverse impacts to waters of the United States which remain after all appropriate and practicable avoidance and minimization has been achieved. (c) In fall 2022, the Corps received two preconstruction notifications (PCNs) for nationwide permit 6 for discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States associated with geotechnical borings in the Well Pad 4 project area and Stage 1 production facility area. The Corps has completed the review process and once confirmation of the issuance of a 401 water quality certification is received the verifications can be issued. (d) The Corps received a
permit application for the proposed Stage 1 Production Facility Project on 01 December 2022. The Stage 1 Production Facility Project involves the construction of a joint geothermal power plant and lithium extraction facility along the southeastern shore of the Salton Sea. The project intends to produce 49.9 MW of geothermal power that would supply power to the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) and extract and produce lithium-based products for commercial sale. The proposed project would result in the permanent loss of approximately 40 acres of potential jurisdictional waters. The Corps withdrew the permit application on 20 January 2023, due to the lack of response from the applicant after the Corps requested additional information. CTR would be required to offset any unavoidable adverse impacts to waters of the United States which remain after all appropriate and
practicable avoidance and minimization has been achieved.
(2) Approved Jurisdictional Determination (AJD) Request: In November 2021, CTR provided the Corps with a delineation of aquatic resources along with their AJD request, which was subsequently revised in January 2022, indicating that of the 1,550 total acres which comprise the HKP area, 1,281acres are wetlands, and 55 acres are non-wetland waters. However, CTR’s AJD request contended the wetlands within the HKP area are not subject to jurisdiction as waters of the United States under the current regulatory regime. On 24 October 2022, CTR notified the Corps to hold in abeyance its AJD request and presume the Corps has jurisdiction over the HKP area. Per CTR’s change of course, the Corps withdrew the AJD request.
(3) Unauthorized Activity (UA): The Corps has completed an investigation of unauthorized activities, specifically the unauthorized discharge of dredged and/or fill material by CTR into waters of the United States in the HKP area. These activities appear to have been conducted in the same areas in which the Corps was reviewing CTR’s Well Pad 4 application and CTR’s request for an AJD for the larger geothermal/ lithium production facility. The Corps, along with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 staff, completed a site visit on 16 September 2022. On 01 December 2022, the Corps received an after-the-fact (ATF) permit application for discharges associated with the potential UA. The Corps is undertaking its final review of a Notice of Violation/ Order for Initial Corrective Measures that will outline the requirements that must be fulfilled to resolve the matter
through an ATF permit application. Specifically, the Corps will require a signed tolling agreement and initial corrective measures to alleviate adverse effects to aquatic resources resulted from the UA, including the ongoing diversion of surficial and groundwater hydrology from existing wetlands.

David Castanon, Chief, Regulatory Division, David.J.Castanon@usace.army.mil
Cori Farrar, Chief, South Coast Branch, Regulatory Division, Corice.J.Farrar@usace.army.mil
Kyle Dahl, Chief, San Diego & Imperial Counties Section, South Coast Branch, Regulatory,

Congressional Interest: Senators Butler and Padilla, Representatives Ruiz (CA-25), Calvert (CA-41), Issa (CA-48)

Congressional Liaison