California State Assembly Passes Legislation Would Protect the Mojave Desert

As the desert U.S. Southwest gets drier, companies like Cadiz want to pump out groundwater from the Mojave Desert and sell it to L.A.

The California State Assembly passed legislation that would present a hurdle to a project to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert. SB 307 could stop the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation Recovery and Storage Project, which is proposed by a company based in Los Angeles called Cadiz Inc. and Southern California water agencies. The project proposes to pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater annually from Mojave Desert aquifers. The bill goes to Governor Gavin Newsom. 

SB 307 protects federal and state lands, including Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument, from water grabs. It requires the State Lands Commission and the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Water Resources to study proposed water projects and find no adverse impacts before authorizing groundwater pumping. The bill allows 15 to 24 months to review projects. 

“The Legislature has made it clear that the era of driving California’s aquifers into overdraft conditions is over and emphasizes the importance of managing these aquifers sustainably for the future,” said Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife.

The National Parks Conservation Association describes the bill as “a commonsense solution to protect Mojave Trails National Monument’s springs, groundwater, and wildlife.” According to David Lamfrom, California Desert and Wildlife Director, National Parks Conservation Association, the bill would “ensure that the state and the public have an independent voice to study threats posed by the Cadiz project and safeguard our desert water, for the benefit of generations to come.”

Cadiz wants to pump water from the Mojave Desert and sell it to Southern California

Cadiz opposed the bill, stating that it “strongly” opposed it because the company did not feel it “is the appropriate vehicle or solution given its laser focus on one specific project in one small section of the Mojave Desert instead of subjecting all groundwater use in the Mojave Desert to the same standards.” What Cadiz fails to mention is that their proposed project would pump water from the Fenner Basin, an ancient aquifer that holds an estimated 17 to 34 million acre-feet of water. The water the company would pump would be sold to Southern California water agencies. 

A study published in 2018 questions the environmental science behind the Cadiz project. The company may have grossly overestimated the amount of water that will be replenished from the Fenner Basin. There are five springs that study describes as life-sustaining that would be in jeopardy by the project, researchers found, because the aquifer feeds them and not rainfall, as Cadiz claimed in its environmental impact report. 

“These large uncertainties in the derived recharge values hinder the ability to appropriately assess and manage the water resources in the region,” the researchers wrote. 

SB 307 protects the Mojave Desert and other areas of the state from companies like Cadiz. In the words of Terry Tamminen, California Environmental Protection Agency secretary under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the bill ensures “that such unsustainable water schemes don’t threaten the environment and the communities that would rely on them.”

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