Environmentalists Dismayed By Cook’s Flip On Cadiz Water Exporting Project Opposition

(November 12)  Congressman Paul Cook, who had previously gone on record as opposing the Cadiz Water Project, in September wrote a letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, recommending against any further environmental review of the project.
Cook’s action angered and disappointed environmentalists who had previously endorsed him and his continued tenure in office.
Known by the abbreviated name Cadiz Water Project, the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project  is a proposal by proponent Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc.  to 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.  Santa Margarita gave approval to the plan in July 2012. 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 in October 2012 accepted a water use monitoring plan for the project which gave Cadiz, Inc. procedural clearance to move forward with the project.
A series of nine environmental suits against the project ensued, including six that were remanded to Orange County Superior Court to be heard jointly. Environmentalists and residents of the East Mojave enlisted Cook’s support in opposing the project. As the member of Congress representing the East Mojave, Cook in June 2013 called for a federal review of the undertaking.
In a letter dated June 12, 2013 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 2013 letter continued, “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.  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.”
Cook further wrote, “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 noted,  “Professional independent reviews have called into question the 32,500 acre-feet per year recharge rate Cadiz Inc. claims will naturally occur. 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.”
Two months ago,  15 months after writing that letter, Cook abruptly shifted course.
“Shortly after taking office last year, I wrote to you about the proposed Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project (“project”), which would be located in California’s Eastern Mojave Desert,” Cook wrote Jewell in a letter dated September 16, 2014. “The project will provide an additional 50,000 acre feet of water per year to the state’s dwindling water supply. It is important to me that my constituents and the land itself are protected from significant environmental harm. For that reason, I asked in my previous letter that a federal environmental review be undertaken for the project. Further developments have changed the dynamics surrounding the project, calling into question the need for federal environmental review and signaling a need to allow the project to move forward.
“Recently,” the letter continues, “the Orange County Superior Court denied all six petitions challenging the project’s environmental assessment and upheld the actions of the Santa Margarita Water District and the county of San Bernardino in approving the project.”
“Furthermore,” Cook’s September letter continues, “San Bernardino County suffers from unemployment that far exceeds the national average. The project is expected to employ 1,500 people during every year of construction. Indeed, I have received assurances that 80 percent of the project’s capital cost will be spent in San Bernardino County, and 50 percent of jobs have been dedicated to residents of San Bernardino County, including 10 percent for military veterans.”
Cook’s letter continues, “Project plans specify that San Bernardino County will regulate the extraction of groundwater, and 20 percent of the project water is reserved for county water providers for the next 50 years. Perhaps most importantly, I have reviewed a study of the hydrology in the area; I believe the project to be sustainable in terms of water recharge rates and in avoiding adverse effects on top soil.”
The letter continues, “The project construction is expected to generate close to $1 billion in economic activity and, over the long-term, local governments will receive $6 million per year in new property tax revenues, including $600,000 annually added to the budget of the Needles Unified School District.“
Cook’s letter concludes, “With the court approvals in mind and with so many jobs at stake, I believe further investigation into environmental impacts to be unnecessary. However, as the project moves forward, I will continue to monitor it to ensure that no harm is done to the local environment or water supplies.”
Cook’s letter was written on September 16 while he was engaged in an election campaign against Democratic challenger Bob Conaway. It was not released publicly until November 6, when Cadiz, Inc. did so in conjunction with its strategy to promote the project and stave off further legal challenges, including appeals of the cases in which it prevailed on in Orange County Superior Court.
Ruth Musser Lopez, one of the environmentalists who brought suit against Cadiz, Inc, the Santa Margarita Water District and the county of San Bernardino over the approval of the project in 2012 who was also an unsuccessful candidate for California State Senate in Senate District 16, which encompasses the East Mojave, was highly critical of Cook’s most recent letter.
She said Cook, a Republican, had betrayed the voters he represents by seeking to shut down further environmental review of the project. Musser Lopez, a syndicated columnist whose work has appeared in the Sentinel, said environmental review of the project has been inadequate. She suggested Cook had engaged in underhanded action by withholding the September letter to Jewell while the election was still pending.

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