Local role in protection of the desert is critical too

Local role in protection of the desert is critical too

By Courtney Degener

Desert Dispatch

Posted Feb 3, 2019 at 12:01 AM

California’s Mojave Desert holds deep meaning for many people. For some, it’s a place for refuge and recreation; for others, it’s home. The Mojave is a vast, diverse landscape covering more than 25,000 square miles, dozens of cities and countless claims upon its resources, history and legacy.

It is also home to San Bernardino County’s largest farm, the Cadiz Ranch, which has sustainably grown fruit and vegetables for over 30 years. Cadiz was founded in the early 1980s and we have grown to own and manage over 50 square miles in the Mojave, including Cadiz Ranch, which is run by locals who have lived in the area for decades.

Our neighbors include railroads, utility lines, mining, renewable energy, military installations, outdoor recreation areas and federal lands. Distant offices in Sacramento and Washington impose many layers of protection, but the true responsibility for protecting and understanding is borne by local entities.

The Mojave community has been our home for nearly four decades. In that time, in addition to farming, we’ve entered a Green Compact with the Natural Heritage Institute to manage our property holistically, support solar energy development, and manage groundwater sustainably; established the nation’s largest land bank devoted to protecting desert tortoise habitat; and made plans for a tourist steam train operation and cultural center creating local tourism opportunities. Recently we also committed $5 million to establish the Southern California Clean Water Fund, a private fund that will help finance water quality improvements for small water systems serving disadvantaged communities.

We’re also pursuing an environmentally sustainable water project overseen by San Bernardino County to manage the groundwater basin that supports our farming and provide a new source of water to Southern California. The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project will conserve over 10 billion gallons of groundwater that is now lost to evaporation every year at nearby dry lakes and create groundwater storage capacity and a new water supply for 400,000 people.

The Cadiz Water Project will be built on private or already disturbed land, and Cadiz has worked closely with San Bernardino County, as the local public agency with authority over groundwater in the Cadiz area, on a groundwater monitoring and management plan to restrict Project operations and ensure sustainability. As a result, local communities can have confidence that the Cadiz Water Project will protect the environment and local resources, while providing water and creating jobs.

As with any new infrastructure project, the approval process for our project has been contentious. But, throughout the multi-year permitting process, public agencies and the courts have considered testimony, comments and studies from all sides as required by California’s tough environmental laws. In every instance, the project has been found to be safe and sustainable. We look forward to implementing the project as soon as possible.

Protecting the Mojave starts at home. If we’re serious about it, then we must engage collaboratively, recognize what all sides bring to the table, and stop playing politics focused on who sits at a desk in DC. With an open and constructive dialogue, we can honor the legacy of the Mojave and together build a more sustainable future for our community.

Courtney Degener is Vice President, Communications/External Relations for Cadiz Inc.