California Governor Signs Bill to Protect the Mojave Desert

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

California governor Gavin Newsom signs into law a bill protecting the Mojave Desert, helping to ensure transparency through independent scientific analysis of any development proposals within the protected area.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill (SB 307) that prevents proposals to export desert water without state review. The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2020.

The bill protects federal and state lands, including Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument. It effectively stops the Cadiz Water Project which would extract water from an underground aquifer in the Mojave Desert and export it. Developed by Cadiz Inc., the project proposes to pump 16 billion gallons of water a year from the Mojave Desert aquifer.

“SB 307 will ensure that independent scientific analysis is conducted and reviewed in a public and transparent process,” said Governor Newsom, in a statement released after signing the bill. “Such a process will determine if any major water transfer project in the Mojave Desert will unreasonably affect the environment and water-dependent ecosystems in the surrounding watersheds before any project being approved.”

A project that should not be considered

Cadiz claims that the aquifer’s water natural recharge rate is 32,000 acre-feet annually while the U.S. Geological Survey puts it at 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet annually. Cadiz proposes to extract and export 50,000 acre-feet every year for 50 years. The National Park Service commented on the project’s draft environmental impact report that the company’s estimated annual recharge rates “are not reasonable and should not even be considered.”

The bill signed by Governor Newsom stops the Cadiz project from being developed until the state certifies that it will not have any adverse impacts on natural and cultural resources. The bill requires the State Lands Commission, consulting with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Water Resources, to find no adverse impacts from exporting water from the Mojave Desert before groundwater pumping will be authorized.

Cadiz claims the bill will not stop the project, which Cadiz CEO Scott Slater characterized in a statement as “a sustainable project designed to safely make available new water for 400,000 people in California.” Slater added that the company will work closely with the Governor’s office and state agencies “as we complete this public, and transparent procedural step and we are confident that we will continue to demonstrate that the project is environmentally sound and a worthy part of the solution to California’s persistent water supply challenges.”

Widespread support for the bill

There is widespread support for the bill ranging from environmental and conservation groups to congressional members. The National Parks Conservation Association is a group that backs the bill. “By signing SB 307, Governor Newsom has made clear that California will step in to defend water supply, wildlife, national parks, and monuments when the Trump administration neglects its job,” said Chris Clarke, California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) issued a statement in support of the bill after Governor Newsom signed it into law:

“For decades, Cadiz has tried to skirt federal permitting and rob the Mojave Desert of its most precious resource, water,” she said. “Thanks to Governor Newsom’s signature, that effort has been thwarted and California now has significantly stronger protections for desert aquifers.”

Thank Governor Newsom for signing the bill into law

There is a way you can thank Governor Newsom for signing the bill into law and protecting the Mojave Desert. Sign the National Resources Defense Council’s thank you letter to him.

Comments (3)

Finally, some actions are gonna be done. I myself live there, in California and this problem concerns me. People talk about it a lot but nothing was done till this moment.

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