Take California state leaders, Tribal representatives, Latinx representatives, and conservationists over the proposed National Monument and the bordering Salton Sea to discuss preservation.
The proposed Chuckwalla National Monument, named for the large lizard found in the area, will protect over 800,000 acres of important habitat and wildlife corridors. Our overflights examined the Chuckwalla Bench, home to one of the largest and most intact desert tortoise habitats in the California desert, historic World War II training sites, and the ancestral homelands of multiple Tribal nations. A national monument designation will protect these cultural, historic, and ecological values, and provide outdoor opportunities for California communities that currently have limited recreational access.
The Bench remains a largely preserved ecosystem because of its early recognition as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. But, the region is threatened by massive proposed residential developments, nearby energy sites, and a lack of legislative protections. A coalition of groups is working to create stronger and lasting environmental protections through a national monument designation. The designation will protect land in Riverside and Imperial counties, bordering the endangered Salton Sea and will preserve a critical ecological buffer for Joshua Tree National Park. The National Monument is complementary to future solar-energy developments under the DRECP, while creating protections for important historical lands, cultural resources, biodiverse species, and recreational opportunities.
Our overflight also examined the Salton Sea, which has shrunk by around 40 square miles, uncovering soil ridden with heavy metals, small particulate matter, and pesticide residues. When dry, these toxic materials can blow throughout the Coachella Valley and surrounding communities. As a result, the Salton Sea could become the single biggest point source of air pollution in the country, and a major public health threat to the nearly one million people living in the surrounding area. As the Sea dwindles, critical bird habitat has become less stable, with increasing salinity negatively impacting invertebrate food-sources causing Eared Grebes to dwindle from millions to just handfuls and the majestic American White Pelicans to decrease from thousands to just a few birds.
The Salton Sea is one of the largest lithium storages in the world, with up to six million metric tons of lithium stored underground, deeming the area "Lithium Valley". The Salton Sea is utilizing a new process to extract lithium from geothermal brine. There are 11 operational geothermal power stations at the Salton Sea. As energy is produced, the plants generate brine; lithium is then extracted from the brine before it's injected back into the ground. This process is much less degradative than the more common open pit lithium mining and could provide massive economic revenue and hundreds of jobs for Imperial County, which currently has the highest unemployment rate in California.
Our partners are working for a stronger rehabilitation program at the Salton Sea to provide much-needed bird and wildlife habitat, suppress dust erosion, and provide economic benefits to the region.
Click for photos from the next days overflights of the Salton Sea and proposed monument
Click for a .kmz file with geo-referenced flight photos from 4/16/23, and geo-referenced photos from 4/17/23