Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today called on Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to uphold the Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 determination that Cadiz cannot use an existing railroad right-of-way for its water extraction project in the Mojave Desert without further federal environmental reviews.
“I believe this administration is on the path to overturning a 2015 Interior Department determination that has prevented the Cadiz water extraction project from moving forward,” said Senator Feinstein. “If Cadiz is successful in building its project, a major aquifer that sustains life in California’s Mojave Desert will be destroyed. This would be a terrible legacy for this administration to allow the destruction of all that we’ve done to preserve this amazing desert for posterity.”
Full text of the letter to Secretary Zinke:
May 23, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke,
I strongly oppose the Cadiz water extraction project in California’s Mojave Desert and ask that you not rescind the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) October 2, 2015 determination that Cadiz cannot use an existing railroad right-of-way without further federal environmental reviews.
My history with Cadiz dates back more than 15 years. I previously worked with Cadiz and called in the USGS to see if we could find a way for their project to proceed without depleting the aquifer and destroying the desert. Instead, Cadiz disregarded scientific analyses from the USGS and the National Park Service about how devastating their proposal would be to the desert and its wildlife.
- Cadiz asserts that the recharge rate is 32,000 acre feet per year and proposes to export an average of 50,000 acre feet of groundwater from the region each year over a 50-year period.
- However, the U.S. Geological Survey has stated since 2000, and reaffirmed to me in a May 2017 letter, that they believe the recharge rate is only between 2,000 and 10,000 acre feet per year.
- Additionally, the National Park Service believes the groundwater recharge in the basin ranges from 4,650 to 7,750 acre feet per year “at best.”
- In its comments on the Cadiz project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, the National Park Service concluded that Cadiz’s estimated annual recharge rates “are not reasonable and should not even be considered.”
The California Desert Protection Act, which I authored in 1993, protects more than 7.5 million acres of pristine desert land for all time in national parks and preserves. I believe you would agree with me after experiencing the magnificent colors of a desert sunrise, visiting a wildflower bloom like we had this spring, or seeing a desert tortoise or big horn sheep in its native habitat, that this special place must be protected. I have enclosed a photograph my staff took a few weeks ago of a desert tortoise in the Mojave Trails National Monument to give you an idea of the magnificent flora and fauna unique to this area.
The long-controversial Cadiz water extraction project would drain a sensitive aquifer in California’s Mojave Desert in order to sell the water at a profit within the greater Los Angeles region. Cadiz proposes to convey the extracted water by a pipeline to be built within an existing railroad right-of-way.
However, in accordance with court precedents and a legal opinion from the Department of the Interior Solicitor, BLM determined in October 2015 that Cadiz’s project does not “derive from or further a railroad purpose” and therefore could not use the existing railroad right-of-way in an attempt to avoid federal environmental reviews.
In its determination BLM rejected the notion that the proposed water pipeline would provide “fire suppression” benefits to the railroad, given that water use for fire suppression of creosote treated railroad lumber was an uncommon industry practice. In fact, most railroads use sand.
I am also strongly opposed to BLM’s decision on March 29, 2017 to rescind two Instruction Memoranda related to the underlying Solicitor’s Opinion, specifically Memoranda No. 2014-122 and No. 2012-038. It has been reported that rescinding the Memoranda was intended as a step toward overturning past Departmental precedents and allowing Cadiz to use the railroad right-of-way without having to undergo the normal environmental reviews that would be required of any project of this magnitude on federal lands.
I have attached letters from the two agencies within your department that explain their scientific assessments of the groundwater recharge potential of the region.
Given that it is the mission of your department to protect and responsibly manage our natural resources, I would hope that you would not allow a single company with powerful lobbyists to circumvent our laws and degrade a national treasure for corporate profit. Thank you for your attention to this matter of great personal importance to me. Please do not hesitate to contact me or have your staff contact Alexis Segal in my office if you have any questions.
United States Senator