Cadiz water project poses grave threat to California desert: Dianne Feinstein - Los Angeles Daily News
Mar 07 2017
By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News
The recent election may have changed the dynamic in Washington, but the facts on the ground in the California desert remain the same: The Cadiz water mining project poses a grave threat to the California desert and should not be approved.
Covering about 35,000 acres of prime desert land, the project sits in the heart of the new Mojave Trails National Monument, described by President Obama as an area that “exemplifies the remarkable ecology of the Mojave Desert, where the hearty insistence of life is scratched out from unrelenting heat and dryness.”
Comprised of scarce springs and exceedingly rare riparian areas, the Mojave Desert provides safe refuge to a wide variety of plants and animals, like bighorn sheep and mule deer that thrive on the area’s remote springs and seeps. And destroying the aquifer that supports those species is simply a bad decision.
With President Obama’s recent decision to establish the Mojave Trails National Monument and protect more than 1.3 million acres of this delicate land, the case for a federal review has never been stronger. The project, its pipeline and its potential environmental effects are all centered within the new monument’s boundaries and could potentially harm the Mojave National Preserve, a crown jewel of the National Park System.
Despite the pristine desert setting in which the project sits, Cadiz proposes to export significantly more water than can be replenished naturally. The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service — the agencies responsible for assessing effects on the environment — both concluded that the natural recharge rate for this sensitive desert aquifer ranges from 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet per year.
Yet Cadiz proposes to extract more than five times the amount of water that is recharged naturally, or roughly 50,000 acre-feet per year for the next 50 years. That’s between 1 million and 2 million acre-feet of water over the lifetime of project, even though the amount that would sustainably be recharged is only about 500,000, according to the agency estimates.
What took millions of years to develop, Cadiz proposes to decimate in a matter of decades.
For some, like the Chemehuevi and Southern Paiute tribes, this landscape is sacred. As Nicole Johnson of the Native American Land Conservancy put it, “Cadiz’s aggressive pumping doesn’t save a drop for our children or grandchildren and would draw down groundwater and threaten the seeps and springs that are the sustenance of life.”
Federal review and approval of the project is more important today than ever.
We shouldn’t be gambling with projects like Cadiz that pose such a dire threat to the environment. Instead, we should be exploring a range of options, including cheaper, easier and environmentally friendly alternatives like water recycling.
In Orange County, for example, the water district has built a model recycling plant, one that uses advanced purification to supply clean water to almost 1 million residents while protecting the environment, all at half the cost.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: California must continue to look for “new” water sources that are sustainable and cost-effective. That’s why I was so pleased when Congress last year passed a drought bill with $558 million for projects ranging from desalination and storage to recycling and environmental restoration.
We can, and must, do better than projects that jeopardize the desert and its sensitive ecosystems, especially when there are smarter, safer choices.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, is California’s senior U.S. senator.