General Motors invests $500,000 in Salton Sea restoration

Audubon California has received $500,000 from General Motors to help support its work on the fast-dwindling Salton Sea. Audubon will use the funds toward the design of public recreational facilities at its 900-acre Bombay Beach wetland restoration site; to conduct research into the lake’s biofilm, or bacterial species; to assess its overall ecosystem health; and to engage local communities on the future of the huge water body.

The announcement comes on the heels of an announcement late Monday by the U.S. Department of Interior that $250 million in Inflation Reduction Act funds will go toward Salton Sea habitat restoration and dust suppression projects in exchange for Colorado River conservation projects by two desert water agencies. The Imperial Irrigation District board has scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday to consider and possibly vote on that multi-agency agreement.

“The Salton Sea is an enormous resource to California, to the western United States, and the entire Western Hemisphere,” said Frank Ruiz, director of Audubon California’s Salton Sea Program. “That means more than just lithium extraction: The sea should provide recreational opportunities and badly needed access to the outdoors for residents of park-poor surrounding communities, as well as continue its role as a stopover of hemispheric importance to millions of migrating birds. We’re grateful to GM for this grant and its commitment to helping halt the sea’s decline.”

A sign welcomes visitors to Bombay Beach along State Route 111 in Bombay Beach, Calif., on August 11, 2022.
A sign welcomes visitors to Bombay Beach along State Route 111 in Bombay Beach, Calif., on August 11, 2022.

In a news release about the GM funding, Audubon California said the grant will help fund planning for infrastructure at Bombay Beach that will provide habitat for birds and threatened Desert Pupfish, control wind-blown dust off of drying, exposed lakebed, and provide educational features for visitors. The award also will help fund Audubon’s Salton Sea science staff, working with local environmental youth leaders, to take water and soil samples, survey bird populations and conduct other research, including the hiring of a local graduate student to investigate food availability for migratory shorebirds. In addition, Audubon will conduct outreach to and engage with local residents on issues pertaining to the sea.

“General Motors is proud to support Audubon’s work to help restore and improve wetlands around the Salton Sea,” said Terry Rhadigan, vice president of corporate giving at GM. “As we accelerate our plans for an all-electric future, we recognize the importance of supporting the Lithium Valley community and will continue to thoughtfully engage to ensure the region is accessible and sustainable for generations to come.”

GM’s gift is the latest investment in the area by the giant automaker. It is also partnering with start-up company Controlled Thermal Resources on possible commercial extraction of vast quantities of lithium from a subterranean reserve at the Salton Sea’s southern end, in an impoverished area dubbed “Lithium Valley.”

Lithium, a featherweight metal, is crucial to GM’s plans to make more affordable, higher-mileage electric vehicles. GM was the first company to make a multi-million dollar investment in CTR’s project known as Hell’s Kitchen, giving it top rights to any lithium produced by the first stage of the project, and an option for a multi-year relationship.

Janet Wilson is senior environment reporter for The Desert Sun, and co-authors USA Today's Climate Point. She can be reached at and on Twitter @janetwilson66.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: General Motors invests $500,000 in Salton Sea restoration