California's largest lake is in danger of being lost to lithium, but there are still hope for a revival

A large container of salty water is found near the dying Salton Sea in Southern California. It was left behind by super-hot liquid that was drilled deep underground to power steam turbines.

California's largest lake is in danger of being lost to lithium, but there are still hope for a revival

These containers are connected to tubes that produce what appears like dishwater. However, it is lithium, which is a crucial component of rechargeable batteries. This is the region's newest hope for economic recovery.

The demand for electric vehicles has driven investments to extract lithium from the geothermal brine. This is a salty water that was overlooked and pumped underground since 1982, when the first geothermal plant in the area opened. This mineral-rich byproduct could be even more valuable than the electricity generated from it.

California's largest, but shrinking lake is leading the charge for efforts to make the United States a major global player when it comes to lithium production. Despite having large amounts of ultralight metal, Nevada still has the only lithium plant in the country. The U.S. is far behind Australia and Chile, Argentina, China and China.

Some residents of the Salton Sea's receding shores are indifferent to environmental destruction over decades. They have been disappointed in the past, most recently by solar power plants that did not provide the economic engine they hoped for.

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke a dike. Two years of flooding created a sizzling basin that attracted many tourists, including Frank Sinatra.

However, storms of the 1970s decimated resorts and marinas. Many homes were destroyed by flooding in Bombay Beach's former resort area. The water dried and left an almost apocalyptic environment that attracted artists.

In 1995, the lake's level reached its highest point. However, it has been decreasing faster than Colorado River water that seeps downhill through farms. Farmers have conserved more water to keep the lake from evaporating further.

Since 2003, the 324-square-mile (839-square-kilometer) lake has shrunk 40 square miles (104 square kilometers), exposing vast lakebed with microscopic wind-blown dust that contributes to poor air quality and asthma.

Migrating birds have made the sea a crucial stopover. Frank Ruiz from Audubon California's Salton Sea Program director said that the lake has been shrinking and the fish population has decreased. This has resulted in about 25% less of the 400 species of birds that once inhabited it. Because there are so few oxygen-starved Tilapia, the stench of their carcasses has stopped blanketing shores with a constant stench that could reach Los Angeles.

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