California Bill Takes Aim at Mojave Desert Groundwater Project

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A new bill in the state Legislature would require California to review the environmental impacts of a company's proposal to pump groundwater from beneath the Mojave Desert and sell it to Southern California cities — a controversial plan that was slowed down by President Obama, but which appears to have the backing of the Trump administration.

Cadiz Inc. hopes to pump 16.3 billion gallons of groundwater annually in the heart of the desert, about 75 miles northeast of Palm Springs, on land surrounded by Mojave Trails National Monument and near Mojave National Preserve. Conservation groups say the project would drain a fragile desert aquifer by removing more water from the groundwater basin than nature puts back in, harming ecosystems that depend on that water, including plants and animals within the preserve. Cadiz hotly contests those claims, pointing to its own studies showing the project wouldn't harm the environment.

Legislation introduced Wednesday by state Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, would put those competing claims to the test.

Friedman's legislation, AB 1000, singles out Cadiz by requiring state regulators to review projects that seek to transfer groundwater away from desert lands in the vicinity of national monuments, national preserves and other protected spaces. The State Lands Commission, working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, would be tasked with ensuring that the transfer "will not adversely affect the natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or habitat," of protected lands nearby.

Friedman said she grew up in south Florida and has watched the Everglades slowly deteriorate over the course of her lifetime. She doesn't want to see the same thing happen to the Mojave Desert.

"That area is a very special area, really for everyone in the state ... It's a beautiful area with a very unique and precious ecosystem," Friedman, a first-term lawmaker who until recently served on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in an interview.

"The Trump administration and the Cadiz project are changing the rules by removing requirements for federal environment review," Friedman added. "It's up to California now to protect its own land and waters."

As excerpted from The Desert Sun