Cadiz Inc plans to pump the Mojave Desert aquifer and transport that water to southern California communities.
Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun
Like just about everything else that involves water, the Cadiz Inc. Mojave Desert aquifer project saga has been one of many ebbs and flows.
There were two new developments in this situation recently.
The federal government reversed itself this month and gave its blessing to the massive project to transfer as much as 16.3 billion gallons of groundwater per year from beneath the desert floor near ecologically sensitive public lands to thirsty urban communities via a long pipeline. Meanwhile, a state agency recently reasserted its claim that part of that pipeline would traverse a stretch of state-owned land and therefore would be subject to a lease and permit process.
Flow, meet ebb.
We’re not surprised by these types of twists and turns when it comes to such projects that many fear could harm the environment. That government at all levels would pursue any avenue to thoroughly vet such projects is something we should demand.
MORE: Feds give their OK to pipeline plan
The Cadiz project in particular has raised eyebrows and suspicions since its inception many years ago. Cadiz seeks to draw water from beneath its 34,000 acres of land near the Mojave Trails National Monument and ship it to cities via a 43-mile-long pipeline along the Arizona and California Railroad that would connect to the Metropolitan Water District’s aqueduct.
Environmentalists claim Cadiz has drastically overestimated the natural recharge rate of the aquifer and the proposed draws would severely compromise the area’s ecosystem. Metropolitan, meanwhile, has said it needs to see a formal proposal from Cadiz before determining whether to allow introduction into the aqueduct of water that might contain above-standard levels of contaminants such as arsenic and chromium.
The Bureau of Land Management, under the Obama administration in 2015, ruled that the Cadiz project was not a legitimate use of a railroad right of way as it did not “further a railroad purpose.”
Last month, however, the Trump administration’s Interior Department issued a new opinion saying the 1875 railroad law governing such rights of way does not preclude the project, as it does not “interfere” with the railroad. This followed lobbying by 18 members of Congress.
Cadiz has said that is a green light for moving forward, but the State Lands Commission has said Cadiz must negotiate for the use of a relatively short stretch of state land the pipeline’s path would cover, and that might include another state review. Cadiz says a comprehensive project review, which was completed in 2012 and has survived numerous court challenges, addressed environmental concerns so this State Lands Commission move should amount to a real estate negotiation at most.
We expect it might not be as simple as that, however.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom chairs the lands commission. That candidate for governor in 2018 has been an outspoken opponent of the Cadiz project. He counts Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently announced she is running for another term in Congress and has led the fight against the Cadiz project on Capitol Hill, as a key ally in this particular fight. Both argued publicly, and unsuccessfully, for the Legislature this past session to approve a bill that would have required further review of the Cadiz project.
This entire project has been colored with politics from the beginning. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have spoken in favor of the Cadiz vision and many have received political contributions from the company. Still, the idea that leaders in the region would chase water — and a pot of new jobs — is anything but surprising.
Water is always political in the Golden State.
Water in the desert must be seen as precious, however. We still believe that this project must be subject to extreme scrutiny.
At the very least, the State Lands Commission should use any leverage it has to bring about new, independent studies of the aquifer’s natural recharge rate and the potential effects of the Cadiz project. This would go far in easing concerns many have about the future for the nearby, recently created, national monument.
In addition, we reiterate our call to the State Water Resources Control Board that it use all of the power it has under the landmark 2014 groundwater regulatory law to govern this process and ensure that the project, if it proceeds, has strict oversight throughout its lifetime.