Chemehuevi Tribe Weighs In Against Cadiz Desert Water Extraction Project

(August 23) NEEDLES — The Chemehuevi Tribe has added its protest to the growing chorus of opposition to the Cadiz Water Project, which is purposed to transfer up to 50,000 acre-feet of water from the East Mojave Desert to Orange and Los Angeles counties and was given project approval by an Orange County Water District last year but is now being contested by eleven lawsuits.
The project is an undertaking of Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc., which since the 1980s has operated a 500-acre organic grape, citrus, melon and pepper farm in the Cadiz Valley. Cadiz, Inc. arranged to have the Santa Margarita Water District, to which it is contracted to deliver a portion of the water to be extracted from the desert, to assume lead agency status for the project’s approval. Many of those opposed to the project considered that to be a conflict of interest. San Bernardino County contemplated but in March 2012 ultimately elected against challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita’s assumption of that lead agency status on the project. Instead on May 1, 2012  the county entered into a memorandum of understanding with that district and Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate entities, including the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company, allowing Santa Margarita to oversee the environmental impact report for the project and conduct the public hearings related to project approval. On October 1, 2012, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors gave approval to a groundwater monitoring plan to facilitate completion of the project.
The project generated eleven  lawsuits in which San Bernardino County, Santa Margarita and Cadiz, Inc. have been named as defendants. Even before those lawsuits materialized, the county, on March 27, 2012, retained the San Francisco-based law firm of Downey Brand to assist county counsel in responding to any lawsuits it contemplated might be triggered by the project at what was then said to be a not-to-exceed cost of $449,322. Since that time, however, legal costs have escalated and the county has now earmarked $1,449,332 to pay for outside legal counsel to represent the county with regard to legal challenges to the project.
The lawsuits allege that the project will drain the aquifer in both the Cadiz Valley and nearby Fenner Valley, wreaking environmental harm; that the approval process for the project which allowed a water district in Orange County more than 217 miles from the  project area to serve as the lead agency for the project and oversee its environmental certification violated state and federal environmental laws; that the county of San Bernardino failed to abide by its own desert groundwater management plan in approving the project; that the environmental impact report for the project was inadequate; and that approval of the project violated provisions of both the National Historic Preservation Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and that the Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct a proper review of the cultural and environmental impacts of the project; that the extraction of the water will interfere with salt mining and other pre-existing industrial operations in the area; and other issues.
Plaintiffs include Delaware Tetra Technologies, which operates a salt and mineral mine in the Fenner Valley, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the International Union of North America Local No. 783, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Colorado River Branch of the Archaeological Heritage Association, Santa Margarita Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense, and Rodrigo Briones.
Among those inveighing against the project are U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and former assistant San Bernardino County administrative officer John Goss.  Feinstein has publicly stated that the project’s proposed extraction of more than one million acre-feet of water from the Eastern Mojave Desert over the 50-year life of the project will significantly exceed the United States Geological Survey’s estimate of the area’s recharge capability.  Goss, who drafted the county’s desert groundwater management ordinance before it was adopted in 2002, said that ordinance was violated when the memorandum of understanding between the county, Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District had been entered into before a groundwater management plan for the Cadiz project was adopted.
Now joining Feinstein and Goss are members of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe. Jay Cravath Ph.D., cultural director of the Chemehuevis, said the tribe has “deep concerns”  regarding the project.  “It  will draw considerably more water than the aquifer can replace. It will pose a threat to the ranchers, rural communities and East Mojave landowners. It will do long-term harm to the springs of the precious Mojave National Preserve.”
Cravath went on to state, “What has not been part of the debate is the fact that those are among the ancestral lands of the Chemehuevi. We have traveled the trails for a thousand years. For us, the New York Mountains are akin to the Hebrews’ Mount of Olives; the forests of the Ship Mountains, our Cedars of Lebanon. The ancestors considered those springs not only the life-giving flow, but sacred blessings of mother earth. As this process moves forward, any decision must also weigh the sacred nature of these lands to our tribal members, and those who came before.”

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