My turn: Legislature must block desert water grab
California policymakers are the last line of defense against the federal government’s attempt to facilitate a water heist from beneath our Mojave Desert.
Cadiz Inc. seeks to extract 50,000 acre-feet of water from an underground basin in the Mojave each year and pump it to urban users near the coast.
In 2015, President Barack Obama’s administration blocked the Cadiz Valley project. But under President Donald Trump, the federal Bureau of Land Management told Cadiz Inc. the company won’t need a permit to build the pipeline.
In addition to waiving the basic requirements for federal environmental review, the consider-no-evil Trump administration placed the Cadiz project on its list of “emergency and national security” infrastructure projects.
That step mocks Obama’s establishment of the Mojave Trails National Monument, which is sustained by groundwater that Cadiz would mine.
As Michael Madrigal, President of the Native American Land Conservancy has said: “Indigenous peoples have lived in and tended the California Desert for thousands of years.
“Water is crucial to the native peoples of the California desert. That’s in part why we worked to help establish Mojave Trails National Monument: to protect important springs and other cultural sites from unsustainable industrial projects.”
At this point, it is likely only the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown can prevent the pillage-degrade-and-abandon scheme that would irrevocably mine the lifeblood of desert tortoises, bighorn sheep and other denizens of the Mojave’s fragile desert ecosystem.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein – an oasis of sanity on this issue in Washington – calls the Cadiz project a “desert boondoggle,” and its boondoggle qualities can be easily explained.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the natural recharge rate of the basin from rainfall is from 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet a year – a range that is from 5 to 25 times less than the 50,000 acre-feet of annual extraction envisioned by the project.
On top of that, a peer-reviewed scientific study published this spring in the Journal of Environmental Forensics concluded that Bonanza Springs, a vital water resource for desert wildlife and Native peoples, is connected to and fed by the same basin which the project would drain. Cadiz Inc. had claimed for decades that desert springs were not connected to the basin.
And so it remains for the state of California to be the regulator of last resort.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, a Glendale Democrat, is carrying legislation to allow the state to assert that role and conduct its own review, providing the checks-and-balances increasingly required when California values conflict with the Trump administration actions. It was bottled up in the Senate last summer despite urging from Brown, Feinstein, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to move it along. It has lain dormant ever since.
Since that action, the Senate’s leadership has changed.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins voted for the legislation last year. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has called Cadiz “tainted by egregious conflicts of interest within the Trump Administration.”
Lawmakers have two weeks to ensure that this project gets the critical review it so obviously deserves.
State policymakers must do what circumstances demand when the federal government abandons its responsibility and acts counter to the interests of California, its natural and cultural resources and its people. They must again resist.
Mary Martin is retired Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve and Lassen Volcanic National Park, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
My turn: Southern California needs this water project
The California Environmental Quality Act requires a stringent evaluation of the implications of major projects and requires that impacts be avoided.
It’s a long, complicated process. When a project completes the arduous review, and the inevitable litigation challenging that review, Californians can have confidence that the project is safe for the environment.
Where project approval also must satisfy local agency review, people can have even more confidence that a project has been thoroughly vetted.
Such is the case with the Cadiz Water Project, a proposal to supplement water supply for Southern California that has been thoroughly vetted and reviewed in accordance with California Environmental Quality Act.
That’s why we found Mary Martin’s recent op-ed disappointing. She urges legislative intervention without acknowledging that critical history. And now a new bill seeks to create a new certification process for water conveyed in California’s water transportation systems, something that is unprecedented.
The legislation targets one specific project, the Cadiz Water Project. It would set a dangerous precedent and pose a threat to any infrastructure project in the state.
The Cadiz Water Project began its development process in 2008. It’s located on privately owned agricultural property in San Bernardino County and offers a new water supply for up to 400,000 people a year by reducing a recurrent loss of 10 billion gallons of water per year to evaporation.
To avoid impacts to any public land, a pipeline will be co-located along an active, existing railroad corridor to deliver water to the Colorado River Aqueduct. The project is expected to create and support thousands of jobs for labor unions, veterans and local families in the Inland Empire.
The Cadiz Water Project was thoroughly reviewed and deemed environmentally safe by California public agencies and courts. San Bernardino County reviewed the project and imposed a groundwater management plan that’s a backstop to ensure against any of the risks expressed by opponents.
The Cadiz Water Project has earned the bipartisan support of elected officials, labor and business leaders. A recent poll of San Bernardino County voters showed that 74 percent support Cadiz as an example of a locally-controlled water project that will help meet the region’s water needs.
Yes, opposition remains, as it often does to development projects in California. But the opposition has chosen to ignore the California Environmental Quality Act approvals, county review and 12 court opinions validating the project.
Legislative intervention in the final week of the session would set a dangerous precedent for other needed projects, including renewable energy, affordable housing, and commercial and hospital construction projects, creating uncertainty in California’s respected and rigorous environmental approval processes.
Moving the goalposts for special interests, who have had their voices heard and concerns addressed, is not good public policy, nor will it help the environment. It’s a short-sighted political strategy that we urge the Legislature to reject.
Winston Hickox is a Cadiz Inc. board member, and former head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, [email protected]. Julian Canete is president of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of which Cadiz Inc is a member, [email protected].