Cadiz Inc., the Los Angeles-based company proposing a water mining operation in the Mojave Desert, released plans Friday, Sept. 20, for steam train excursions and a museum, but environmentalists called it a ploy to avoid a federal review of its groundwater pumping project.
The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project would extract groundwater from an open valley beneath 45,000 acres that Cadiz owns south of the MarbleMountains, 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms. The area lies between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in eastern San BernardinoCounty.
Environmental groups have filed lawsuits to block the $225 million development, which would provide water for about 400,000 people served by six water districts throughout California, including Jurupa Community Services District in RiversideCounty.
The pipeline would run along 85 miles of tracks owned by the Arizona & California Railroad Co. Cadiz already has negotiated an agreement with the railroad for conveyance, but part of the railroad right-of-way crosses federal lands.
Because it involves public property, environmentalists say the project is subject to federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would evaluate environmental impacts.
Seth Shteir California desert senior representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, accused Cadiz of trying avoid scrutiny of recharge rates in the ancient aquifer by the U.S. Geological Survey because they were inflated by the company.
“Normally, a NEPA review is required. Is a large corporation above the letter of the law?” Shteir said.
Cadiz President Scott Slater couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In a press release, the company said the Cadiz Southeastern Railway would be powered by water from the Cadiz storage project. If the project is permitted, a depot-style museum and cultural center dedicated to information on the local desert and railroad history would be built on the Cadiz property.
The steam train would be locomotive 3751, which was built in 1927 and is housed at California Steel Industries in Fontana. The engine is owned by the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society.
“The steam train is an original fixture of the Cadiz area – an important historical asset intimately connected to the local culture – and offers a rewarding way to invest locally and promote the unique desert environment,” Slater said in a statement. “As a 30-year member of the Mojave Desert community, we have long appreciated the area’s majesty and appeal and are proud to diversify our business with this exciting new venture.”
The Cadiz railroad would operate on existing tracks on a portion of the Arizona & California Railroad Co. between Parker, Ariz. and Cadiz, with water stops in Milligan, Chubbuck, Rice and Vidal. The Mojave Desert Route, off historic Route 66, “provides sweeping views of the vast desert wilderness, mountainous terrain and the Colorado River,” the company said.