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Hearing Community Member Voices in Lithium Valley


RICK is honored and thrilled to serve as a key player in Lithium Valley Specific Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) project. Brian Mooney, FAICP and Shannon Baer lead RICK’s efforts in all urban planning for the project, including preparing the specific plan, preparing existing condition reports, and conducting extensive community engagement. In line with RICK’s mission, community engagement has been and will continue to be crucial for understanding the needs and opportunities in the area.


Project Background

World demand for lithium is expected to grow as much as tenfold in the next decade, driven largely by increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and energy storage. Astoundingly, it is projected that over 30 million tons of lithium can be extracted from the Salton Sea via geothermal mining techniques in Imperial County.

“Really, lithium is the oil of the clean energy future. We’re lucky to have a resource that’s quite substantial in California and that can be produced in a very low-impact way. And we want to support the development of that in a way that’s going to lift up under-resourced communities in California and restore the health of the region along the way.”

David Hochschild | Chair for the California Energy Commission

Source: Lithium Valley Commission Meeting, public minutes

While the geothermal mining is considered almost a carbon-neutral mining method and the mining of the Salton Sea will bring livable wages and economic improvement to the area, receiving input from communities with local knowledge is vital to the success of the project.

The intent of preparing the Lithium Valley Specific Plan (prepared by RICK’s Planning Team) and PEIR (prepared by Dudek & RICK’s Water Resources Team) is to map out and expedite the development and permitting of renewable resources, mineral recovery, lithium-ion battery manufacturing, and other supportive industries within approximately 51,786 acres adjacent to the Salton Sea.


Niland Children’s and Families Health Fair

Shannon and RICK’s Sabrina Sessarego recently led an outreach event at Niland Children’s and Families Health Fair. This event and future events support one of the primary goals of the project: to respect the right of all community members to remain informed, consulted, involved, and empowered.

The health fair provided the outreach team with an opportunity to engage with a variety of community members, including children, students, parents, and residents. Attendees visiting the booth demonstrated understanding and interest in the project, providing an opportunity for residents to be involved from the beginning.

“Events geared toward families and kids are a great way to gain access to community members that are often too busy or unaware of planning efforts such as this. This event was a unique success because we were able to engage with the people who will be impacted the most and who are often underrepresented. “

—Shannon Baer | RICK Senior Community Planner



The group of participants collectively advocated for the health, well-being, and safety of the community to be advanced and preserved by the project. Overall, participants were extremely motivated for the project to support the development of community parks and recreational facilities in the study area, which have been historically lacking. They also expressed interest in restoring the Salton Sea and mitigating local air and water quality issues.

Similar perspectives were shared on the state of active transportation and mobility in the community, and many called for these facilities to be developed safely and completely.

Community members are hopeful for what the promise of new industry will bring, and they have expressed support for the project’s ability to contribute to job creation and economic growth through expansion of the renewable energy and the lithium industry. To support this growing workforce population, several participants also called for improved affordable housing options.


Further Outreach Efforts and Considerations

Brian and Shannon also presented the initial existing condition findings at the first Lithium Valley community workshop, hosted by Imperial County at Calipatria High. This event gave the public an opportunity to ask questions and provide their thoughts on the existing opportunities and constraints of the project area. Brian, Shannon, Sabrina, and other project team members listened to and responded to community concerns on a wide range of issues, such as jobs, economic growth, and social responsibility.

“[The] workshop is all about trying to gather the information from the community, but also telling the community about the project and the timeframe of the project.”

—Brian Mooney, FAICP | RICK Managing Principal



Additional outreach events in the coming months will engage stakeholders and community members to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.

In addition to the two events mentioned, RICK has completed the first round of meetings with the Technical Advisory Groups and the Environmental Justice Working Group for the project. Also, the team will visit local high schools and meet with local tribes.

Throughout the planning process, RICK seeks to provide community-minded solutions to ensure the project will have a positive impact.

“I think Lithium Valley, and the potential that lithium extraction has, is representative of key opportunities that this region has been lacking, not only the promise of a just transition to better environmental promises, but also the hope that these communities can be transformed along the process, that our communities can reap the benefits of providing a renewable energy source in terms of being more economically stable and more environmentally safe.”

—Silvia Paz | Lithium Valley Commission Chair

Source: Lithium Valley Commission Meeting, public minutes

Environmental justice advocacy groups will also be heavily involved in ensuring the project takes these issues seriously, and the project team has brought on Falcon Strategies to assist in environmental justice engagement.

The Lithium Valley Specific Plan could be a model for future of renewable energy-focused planning efforts throughout the U.S. and internationally. RICK is honored to be a part of such an impactful project, and we believe the community is at the core of the project’s success.

Above all, RICK is committed to amplifying the voices of the local individuals who will ultimately be the driving force of Lithium Valley.