Fact Sheet

Regulatory Program - Geothermal and Lithium Development, Salton Sea, CA

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

The Salton Sea is located 100 miles east of San Diego in Imperial and Riverside Counties, California. The
southeastern 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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District, Regulatory Division (Corps) continues to field requests for information about permitting related to geothermal and lithium extraction at the Salton Sea. In MAY21, Regulatory participated in a meeting with researchers from three national laboratories (Idaho National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and National Renewable Energy Laboratory) to answer questions about the Corps regulatory process as it pertains to geothermal energy. The researchers were funded by US Department of Energy to assess the impact of nontechnical issues related to geothermal and lithium extraction, such as permitting and environmental
concerns including habitat preservation/restoration in Imperial County, CA. In OCT21, Regulatory staff participated in a panel for the Lithium Valley Commission’s monthly meeting. The Lithium Valley Commission was established via a California Assembly Bill (AB 1657) to review, investigate, and analyze opportunities and benefits for lithium recovery within the state.

The area surrounding the Salton Sea is a focus of the Commission due to its potential to produce lithium in addition to geothermal energy. Regulatory presented and discussed the Corps’ potential involvement in permitting lithium extraction projects in and around the Salton Sea. Regulatory advised on what would be needed to support efficient permitting processes and to address potential issues/concerns about lithium and geothermal projects related to the Corps’ regulatory authorities 

The Corps has primarily been in contact with Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) regarding geothermal and lithium extraction projects in the region in recent years, although CalEnergy and BHE Renewables, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, may seek to expand their existing geothermal operations to include lithium extraction facilities. The Corps received a permit application from Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) for its proposed
Stage 1 Joint Lithium Extraction/ Geothermal Energy Production Facility along the shore of the Salton Sea 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. 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. Beyond the proposed Stage 1 facility, CTR has tentative plans to construct four additional stages of lithium production facilities, a battery production facility, and ancillary buildings, within their site which encompasses approximately 1,500 acres of aquatic resources. This proposal
may involve the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement and extensive compensatory mitigation for the impacts to waters of the United States associated with construction the proposed facility. The Corps is also working with CTR to resolve and unauthorized activity, specifically the extension of several drainages through their site which has resulted in the diversion of surficial and groundwater hydrology from existing wetlands. 

Based on discussions with CTR and the State of California, recent exploratory testing indicate access to sufficient lithium volumes for extraction requires the siting of lithium extraction facilities in waters of the United States. Growing interest in increased development of the geothermal energy and lithium resources within and around the southern portion of the Salton Sea is concurrent with the demand for land to provide aquatic habitat restoration and dust suppression projects. Habitat restoration and dust suppression are needed to accommodate the State of California’s and local agencies’ requirements to comply with State Water Order and Air District requirements. The Salton Sea’s receding shoreline and changing hydrology magnify the concerns for water quality, aquatic habitat, environmental justice, and air quality in the watershed/air basin. Further, changes to national regulations and policies defining federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction underscore the need for additional Regulatory staffing resources to be able to provide attention to these critical issues.

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 Padilla and Butler, Representatives Ruiz (CA-25), Calvert (CA-41), Issa (CA-48)

Congressional Liaison