THE MEX FACTOR: Standing against the Lithium Valley

Last week, the Quechan Tribe informed Imperial County authorities of their stance against the Lithium Valley project – becoming the first and as of today the only organization/public entity to stand in opposition to the billionaire development.

In a letter sent on July 26 to Imperial County Planning and Development Services Director Jim Minnick, the tribe set out its opposition to local government plans to build geothermal power generation and lithium mining projects in the Salton Sea. Jordan Joaquin, President of the Quechan Tribal Council, wrote in the letter that the native nation has objected to the lack of formal environmental study processes that were not consulted with the tribe.

“Imperial County has failed to follow its legal obligations under California’s AB 52 process,” Joaquin wrote in the letter. “We see this as a continuing genocide of native people and culture.”

The indigenous leader pointed out that the tribe has formally demanded such processes since 2020. The county, he asserted in the letter, has not engaged in consultation or provided the tribe with project documentation.

“Without these documents, the tribe is unable to make an informed decision about the impacts of these projects on the indigenous nation,” Joaquin elaborated. “The concerns and values are not being balanced fairly with the overall analysis of these projects.”

According to the tribe leader, the tribal government and the direct impacts to the Quechan people and its cultural heritage derived from the lithium plants have been consistently ignored in the process.

Joaquin considered that until a formal consultation process is carried out with the tribe, these projects cannot go ahead. Given the issue, the tribe demanded the county contact its government to rectify problems emerged from the Lithium Valley and engage in a formal consultation.

Copies of the letter were also sent to state, county and Imperial Irrigation District officials.

District 5 Supervisor Raymond Castillo, who represents the area where the tribe in question is located, stated that he met about two months ago with indigenous representatives, including Joaquín Jordan himself. Before the Native Americans, the supervisor explained the authorities’ plans to develop both the geothermal electricity generation projects and the mining companies in charge of extracting lithium.

Castillo considered that, unlike what happens in Australia and South America, where mineral extraction is highly polluting, clean projects will be created at the local level. In addition, the official explained that the plants will be located on land that is not currently cultivated.

Castillo, also former El Centro Mayor, highlighted that the mining companies will bring economic benefits to the region, including communities like Bard and Yuma because the jobs will pay at least $28 per hour and could exceed $100,000 per year with overtime.

The supervisor explained that the system by which lithium is extracted through steam and reinjection of brine will allow the production of geothermal electricity to continue. The supervisor assured that, to date, the Quechan are the only ones who have spoken out against the Lithium Valley.

The official pointed out that the lithium industry, which could attract investments of $10 billion, is also under pressure from the governments of Arizona and Riverside County, which are looking for the production plants to settle with those places, for which he highlighted the need for these to settle in the Imperial Valley.

The Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Jesús Eduardo Escobar, highlighted the importance of the new industry being inclusive of all parties involved in order to develop a plan that includes all opinions. The representative of District 1 stated that the county has held various meetings in the last two years to which many people have been summoned.

The Chairman said that the local government is open to dialogue so that all members of the Imperial Valley family have a voice and a vote in the development of the industry.

Like Castillo, Escobar said that so far there has been no entity that opposes the Lithium Valley.

He gave the Torres Martínez Tribe as an example, on whose lands lithium mines are planned to be installed, which to date has not rejected the project. The Quechan tribe has also opposed the installation of a gold mine, in which case it would be installed on land that has been historically and culturally used by this tribe.

Although several residents in the Northend had expressed concerns about Lithium Valley, no one has openly opposed the project. We’ll see if more will follow the Quechan.

Adelante Valle Editor Arturo Bojorquez can be reached at abojorquez@ivpressonline.com or (760) 335-4646.

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