As GM scales Ultium-powered vehicles, a local, high-quality and ethically sourced supply chain becomes crucial, Grewe said.
Salton Sea lithium will not only drive the EV industry, but the taxes and royalties from projects can also fund Salton Sea restoration projects, say local politicians and community groups.
That could potentially include water importation to reduce toxicity and compensate for evaporation.
Potential economic projects are being explored that include battery assembly plants built on the massive dried-out areas around the waterway. That would help control dust that carries toxic materials into the air while bringing jobs to one of the poorest corners of California.
"This could be this amazing scenario where you've got the geothermal power and the lithium, and you've got a willing work force," Kennedy said.
Luis Olmedo, who represents the community group Comite Civico Del Valle on the Lithium Valley Commission, said promises of economic development in the past have benefited a few groups rather than the larger community. He thinks the Lithium Valley project could be different.
"My expectations are really high because all the stars are aligning," Olmedo said. "You have the state and federal administrations driving the agenda to make sure it's a bottom-up approach."
State Asssemblymember Eduardo Garcia, whose district runs from Joshua Tree National Park in the north to the Mexican border, said development of lithium-related projects would help address concerns over EV supply chains, provide jobs in multiple counties and benefit the Salton Sea itself.
"We have an opportunity to really address a handful of issues, including the environmental issue of the Salton Sea," Garcia said. "There is a tremendous amount of potential here, and the question is: How far do we want to go?"
Hannah Lutz contributed to this report.