Thoroughly reviewed Cadiz project to provide water, jobs: Guest commentary

Thoroughly reviewed Cadiz project to provide water, jobs: Guest commentary

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently authored a column decrying the Cadiz Water Project as bad for the environment, in violation of federal regulations and a threat to a national monument.

That’s not the Cadiz Water Project I know, nor the project that’s been publicly reviewed, approved and upheld in our state’s courts. Unfortunately, Sen. Feinstein, D-Calif., seems to have overlooked key facts about a project that will help California, not hurt it.

Here are the facts: When fully built, the Cadiz project will provide a new, reliable water supply for 400,000 citizens in Southern California, create and support 5,900 jobs and generate billions of dollars of economic activity. In addition, the project will make available new underground water storage to accommodate extremely wet winters, like the one we’ve had this year.

The senator’s assertion that Cadiz does not uphold California’s proud environmental tradition is flatly wrong. Over the past decade, the project has undergone California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, the most stringent standard in the nation. That lengthy analysis concluded the project would not cause significant environmental impacts on the desert environment or tribal lands. This analysis was challenged in court by opponents, but withstood every legal challenge.

When discussing how much water will enter the Cadiz aquifer annually, or its recharge rate, Sen. Feinstein relies on old data from 2000 without acknowledging the significant site-specific data collected by scientists since that time, nor the leaps and bounds made in technological advancements. In 2000, the iPhone and Facebook didn’t exist. Nor did site-specific measurements of the Cadiz Dry Lake’s evaporation or a newer, better U.S. Geological Survey model. These tools have allowed hydrologists to more accurately detail the magnitude of the water supply and groundwater flow system, giving regulators the information needed to limit the project and how it operates.

The project’s groundwater management plan guarantees project operations will be annually constrained to less than 1 percent of what is in the watershed, and to a specific “floor.” The County of San Bernardino, which has been recognized as a champion of local resource management by environmental organizations, has authority to halt operations.

Sen. Feinstein also contends that the Cadiz Water Project does not conform to federal regulations and therefore should be subject to National Environmental Protection Act review — but there is no nexus for federal review. The 43-mile Cadiz pipeline will be built underground, alongside an existing railroad route, to avoid federal land or pristine open space. Co-location of utilities alongside railroad tracks is good public policy that’s been in place for decades. Use of an existing right-of-way is precisely what federal regulations should encourage, not abuse to further delay needed infrastructure. No environmental review is more rigorous than the one already completed by the Cadiz Water Project; it should be embraced, not ignored.

President Obama’s recent designation of the Mojave Trails National Monument did not create a new federal permitting nexus for the project. The Cadiz Water Project is not in the monument, which by law can only include federal lands and cannot impact valid existing rights, including Cadiz’s property rights. This continued misrepresentation only serves to chill the necessary dialogue about how to manage the federal monument lands for environmental and public uses among all parties in the desert, including Cadiz.

Moreover, due to legislation authored by Sen. Feinstein hiding deep within the Interior Appropriations bill, the federal government is actually prohibited from completing a federal review for the Cadiz Project. How can one argue that the project requires federal review while continuing to block the government from doing so? This insinuates that support for federal review is about politics, not the environment. Perhaps this is why the treatment of Cadiz is under investigation by the U.S. House Oversight Committee. Or why a bipartisan group of House members have asked for Interior to remove the bureaucratic red tape that’s stymieing the project.

The accusations against the project levied by Sen. Feinstein are serious, but completely unsupported. The fact remains that over eight years, the project has been studied, publicly reviewed, approved and upheld under our state’s rigorous environmental laws. It will not and cannot “gravely” impact the desert. Rather, it will provide needed water, jobs and economic stimulus for Southern California without harm to the environment, or without one dollar of taxpayer money. Cadiz is precisely the kind of water project California needs right now. It is a model public-private partnership. Let’s get to work.

Winston Hickox is a member of the Cadiz Inc. board of directors. Previously, he was secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) for Gov. Gray Davis from 1999–2003; special assistant for environmental affairs to Gov. Jerry Brown (1975-1983) and an alternate for the California Coastal Commission (1997-1999). He has served on the boards of Audubon California, Sustainable Conservation, and California League of Conservation Voters.

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