By Ruth Musser-Lopez
(December 4) Some labor representatives and even more corporate interests have hailed Congressman Paul Cook’s flip-flop on the Cadiz water project as a good thing. They say his recommendation, contained in his clandestine September letter to the Department of the Interior which was not released to the public until two days after the election, calling for the Bureau of Land Management to drop its effort to carry out strict environmental review of the project will allow what they consider to be an economically beneficial project to proceed. This position that these proponents take blurs the distinction between environmental issues and economic issues. Because of this they come to the conclusion that the project is good on both scores. They are doubly wrong.
Speaking to the environmental impact of the project, thoughtful and intellectually honest analysis of the project by United States Geological Survey scientists and other experts shows that pumping billions of gallons of water from the desert to Orange County will not conserve water in the desert. In fact, it will deprive the desert of the very elixir of life needed to sustain economic activity: water. The claim that by pumping water from deep within the water table will prevent evaporation on the surface of the desert would be laughable were it not so environmentally damaging. Same as anywhere, including the coast, surface evaporation occurs at the surface of the desert. This will continue, regardless of whether water is being sucked out from the water table hundreds of feet belowground or not. A huge host of species too numerous to list here which are highly dependent upon water being present in springs and other manifestations of water near the surface will be irrevocably harmed by withdrawing the water from the water table which feeds these springs.
The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation Recovery and Storage Project is a misnomer. It was prepared and pushed onto us by predatory attorneys, not scientists. It will not conserve water in the desert. It will steal it. This is a treacherous precedent-setting project that privatizes now public water and changes California law that currently requires ground water to be used above the aquifer it is from and not be transported away. Proponents of the project engage in sleight-of-hand when they attempt to mislead the public by changing the focus away from the environmental effects to the supposed economic benefit of the project. With regard to this alleged economic benefit, let us be clear: there is no lasting economic benefit to the desert or its citizens from this project. And whatever temporary economic benefit the project represents is dwarfed by the long-term economic disadvantage it represents.
While it is true that for the relatively short duration that project’s infrastructure will be constructed there will be some temporary jobs created, these jobs will be gone as soon as the pipeline is completed. Once that pipeline is in place it will convey billions of gallons of water from the desert to a location more than 230 miles away. By the time it is clear that too much water has been pumped, it will be too late to reverse the damage. Any future economic benefit in the East Mojave Desert or within its sphere will be much more difficult to pursue because of the lack of water. As water that the East Mojave Desert aquifer possesses is sucked out and sent to Orange County to enrich a business based in Los Angeles, those wishing to pursue projects in the desert will be confronted with the reality that water, already a precious commodity today, will be even more scarce and more expensive in the future. The paltry tax revenue from the Cadiz project is offset by greater lost revenue from potential business not developed here, including agribusiness, that fail or cannot come to fruition due to lack of water. After the Cadiz water project is in place, local well owners will need to drill even deeper at their own expense to reach the desert’s overdrafted water supply. We will not have the water to build the economy or increase jobs here–we can blame the labor union bosses teaming up with Orange County and Los Angeles County corporate interests and Paul Cook for that.
Contrary to what Cadiz proponents assert, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not have authority to grant Right-of-Way’s. The authority to grant a right-of-way on federal land is the Department of Interior’s through its agent Bureau of Land Management. If the sole benefit of the water pipeline was to service the railroad, then definitely the pipeline would be for a railroad purpose and allowed under the terms of the railroad’s right-of-way. Cadiz has argued such and now Colonel Cook who is not an attorney, not a scientist, but instead a corporate sponsored politician, sides with Cadiz. People should bear in mind that the recent court ruling dismissing the environmental lawsuits challenging the project was made by an Orange County Superior Court, which is hardly an equitable forum, since it is Orange County which stands to benefit from this project. That judgment is under review. The Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association filed independent appeals last week. In October, Tetra Technologies Inc. challenged four of the six judgments. All six of the challenged findings are now before the California Court of Appeals, Fourth District and are expected to be heard in 2015.
A lack of independent hydrology data in Cadiz Inc.’s California Environmental Quality Act document which is based only on Cadiz, Inc.’s contracted engineering firm’s findings, which are contradicted by the scientist at the U.S. Geologic Survey, should be reason enough for the United States Department of the Interior to move forward on obtaining its own empirical data concerning annual natural recharge of the aquifer and how much water can be safely pumped from the desert basin.
We anticipate a more objective judgment from a court further removed from Orange County and that the environmental and water laws passed by the people of California will be upheld. Unfortunately, Cadiz, Inc. is planning to move ahead on implementation and pre-construction activities for its water-exploitation-and-export-to-Orange County plan.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez