Cook Calls For Federal Review Of East Mojave Water Siphoning Project

(August 9) Congressman Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) has called for a federal review of the Cadiz Valley Water Project.
That project, the proponent of which is Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc, upon completion will extract an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water from the East Mojave Desert annually and convey it via pipeline to Orange and Los Angeles counties for use there.
The Santa Ana Margarita Water District in Orange County, which lies 217 miles from the  project area and which has contracted with Cadiz, Inc. to purchase one-fifth of the desert water, assumed lead agency status with regard to approval of the project and its environmental certification, including acceptance of the environmental impact report for the undertaking. The county of San Bernardino, which contemplated challenging Santa Ana Margarita’s role overseeing the project, ultimately laid aside its authority as lead agency and last October accepted a water use monitoring plan for the project which gave Cadiz, Inc. procedural clearance to move forward with the project.
The project, however, has provoked eleven separate lawsuits challenging the project.  Those lawsuits allege, variously, 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 200 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 by acquiescing to the project; that the environmental impact report for the project was inadequate; 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.
The county has spent $1.5 million so far on outside legal counsel in defending itself against those lawsuits. As part of the county’s acceptance of the groundwater management plan for the project, Cadiz, Inc. is required to reimburse the county for any legal costs it experiences as a consequence of the project.
In a letter dated June 12 to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Cook stated, “I am writing to request a reevaluation of the impact the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project will have on my constituents in the 8th District of California. The Cadiz Project, as it currently stands, is likely to impact San Bernardino County’s water resources, harming ranchers, rural communities, East Mojave landowners, and the National Chloride Company of America’s brine mining operation on Bristol Dry Lake. Moreover, the aggressive project pumping could harm the springs of the Mojave National Preserve and regional air quality, while exporting precious water resources out of San Bernardino County to ratepayers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.”
Cook’s letter continues, “In order to ensure this project won’t adversely affect my district, I respectfully request the Cadiz Project be subject to a National Environmental Policy Act review. This may be achieved by the Department of the Interior requiring the project to obtain permission to use a railroad right-of-way contingent on federal analysis of its impact to adjacent public lands. Additionally, I request that the United States Geologic Survey conduct an updated analysis of the hydrologic features of the project area and that any new or revised Cadiz Project proposals adhere to the principle of sustainable yield, meaning no more water would be pumped out of the aquifer than would be replaced through natural recharge as determined by the United States Geologic Survey. This is intended to protect sustainable water supplies for East Mojave communities and businesses.
“Currently, no federal environmental reviews or approvals have been conducted, despite numerous requests from the Bureau of Land Management that Cadiz Inc. supply them with specific project information relating to the construction of a 43-mile water conveyance pipeline along the Arizona and California Railroad right-of-way,” Cook further wrote. “While Cadiz Inc. claims it is furthering a railroad purpose by installing fire hydrants and building redundant emergency access roads along he rail line, railroad experts have reported that these actions are not industry standard.“
Noting, “Professional independent reviews have called into question the 32,500 acre-feet per year recharge rate Cadiz Inc. claims will naturally occur,” Cook went on to state, “These independent scientists concluded that the actual recharge rate is between 2,000 and 10,000 acre feet per year. There are serious doubts about the validity of the previous environmental studies, specifically the draft environmental impact statement” for the project. Cook concluded, “This project must be examined thoroughly before it moves forward.”
Floyd Wicks, a water resources engineer who is a consultant to Cadiz Inc. on the project, said, “A new federal review would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Doing so disrespects our state’s environmental process, discounts the voices of supportive stakeholders and impedes needed water supplies and jobs for thousands. Numerous government agencies, independent groups, scientists and hundreds of individuals reviewed and commented on the project proposal.”
Wick’s insisted that building the pipeline that will be used to convey the water to Orange County “serves the public’s clear interest in constructing infrastructure projects where they do the least environmental harm. Cadiz specifically chose an active railroad route to avoid untouched desert lands.”

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