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Gov. Newsom showcases Imperial County's transformation following discovery of massive lithium deposits

Gov. Newsom showcases lithium production in Imperial County
Gov. Newsom showcases lithium production in Imperial County 04:10

A new kind of gold rush appears to be brewing In one of California's most neglected and forgotten corners.

Imperial County is getting an infusion of investment because of a massive amount of lithium-ion that was discovered under the neighboring Salton Sea. 

In his statewide tour replacing the "State of the State" address, Governor Gavin Newsom showcased the transformation of the area. Lithium is a lightweight metal that fuels the batteries in cell phones and the batteries that power all of the new electric vehicles.

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a mason jar filled with lithium while visiting Imperial County. KCAL News

"This is it. This is the holy grail," said Newsom. "We have a sense of urgency to meet this moment, to address the needs of the community to advance, to continue to advance our low carbon green growth goals."

Much of Imperial Valley has been mired in poverty as climate change has exacerbates conditions in areas near the Salton Sea, the largest body of water in the state. 

The area has turned into an environmental disaster zone as the sea dries out, after years of pesticides and heavy metals leaking into it. In its wake, clouds of toxic dust cause chronic asthma and other respiratory diseases for the people who live there. 

"Residents around the sea have been waiting for a very long time for projects that are going to stabilize the sea," said Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency Wade Crowfoot. "The sea has been shrinking, exposing the dust in the playa that worsens air pollution. We've lost major fish and wildlife habitat and we need action."

The governor said his administration has prioritized improving conditions in the county as private investors flock to Imperial to harvest one of the largest lithium deposits in the world.

"We'll bring critical resources to one of the most underserved, under-resourced regions in all of California, if not the nation," said Congressman Raul Ruiz, who represents the county. 

Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelly said investments are in the early stages but he expects the county to reap major benefits in the not-too-distant future.

"It is imperative for our national needs that we secure a commodity needed for that new industry," he said. "We're hoping that our children will reap the rewards of the things we're planting today."

Kelley added that the value of lithium has been skyrocketing. 

"You saw the value of lithium just skyrocket from $7,000 a metric ton to $77,000-$80,000 a metric ton," he said. 

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