OP-ED Cadiz plan a vetted project that will bring jobs, water security

OP-ED Cadiz plan a vetted project that will bring jobs, water security

By Paul Granillo, Special to The Desert Sun (Op/Ed)

April 26, 2017

Earlier this month, the Interior Department reversed course on a controversial policy that blocked the development of much needed infrastructure, water and jobs in Southern California, including the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project. The Cadiz Water Project is a public-private partnership of Cadiz Inc. and Southern California public water agencies that will capture and conserve groundwater presently lost to evaporation at Cadiz Inc.’s private agricultural property in the Mojave Desert and make it available as a new water supply for 400,000 Southern Californians.

The project would add up to 1 million acre-feet of new groundwater storage capacity to Southern California’s bankingportfolio. The construction and implementation of this privately financed project would create and support 5,900 jobs,including 600 jobs for veterans, and generate $6 billion in savings to Southern California ratepayers over 50 years.

Since the project was downsized and re-designed in 2009, the hydrology and geology of the Cadiz Valley aquifer system have been studied by independent experts, including former USGS officials. These studies were put out for public review by federal, state and local agencies in accordance with the stringent California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Project design  was limited in size and scope to avoid impacts to the desert environment and includes a comprehensive groundwater management plan with a firm “floor” on project operations. The county of San Bernardino approved and will enforce a strict groundwater management plan.

A project conveyance pipeline would be tucked into an existing railroad right-of-way (ROW) to avoid any impacts to nearby public lands. The project’s studies and review documents were approved by two public agencies, upheld in California Superior Court and sustained in the California Court of Appeal in 2016. Concerns and challenges raised by groups including the National Parks Conservation Association and Center for Biological Diversity were rejected by the courts.

In 2015, as construction was about to commence, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) California office issued a controversial evaluation of the Cadiz Water Project. It said the proposed use of a railroad ROW for the project’s pipeline would need a new, separate permit. This finding was the first of its kind from the federal government, contrary to historical precedent that encouraged the use of railroad corridors for longitudinal infrastructure – fiber optic lines, gas and sewer lines – in order to protect federal lands from environmental impacts. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group in Congress requested that the BLM withdraw the previous administration’s policy and overturn the Cadiz evaluation. On March 1, the BLM responded by withdrawing the policy and is expected to address the Cadiz ROW request  soon.

Without a doubt, the desert is deserving of protection and care, so projects there require thoughtful review before proceeding. But this is not a case of avoidance of review, or no review at all; with Cadiz, review and approvals have been sought and granted over several years.

Indeed, and often ignored by opponents, in addition to the CEQA approvals received by this project in 2012, an earlier version of the project that would have been built on federal lands was reviewed and approved by BLM in 2002. The current calls for review of the railroad ROW by project opponents are not about better protecting the environment. Sadly, it’s simply a strategy to delay the water supply, storage capacity and jobs the project would  provide.

Email Paul Granillo, President & CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership

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