Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on members of the California Senate Appropriations Committee to support SB 307, legislation introduced by California State Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside) to protect the Mojave Desert from the harmful Cadiz Water Project.
“The Cadiz water extraction proposal illustrates why state protections of desert groundwater basins are so critical at this time,” Senator Feinstein wrote. “Cadiz, Inc., a private company that owns approximately 45,000 acres in the Mojave Desert, wants to exploit the aquifer underneath the land it owns and the adjacent desert. It proposes to extract these limited water resources at withdrawal rates that would decimate the aquifer, and in turn, the desert.
Senator Feinstein continued, “Enhanced state review is already in place for other treasured places in California, such as Lake Tahoe, San Francisco Bay and the California coastline. I strongly believe that California’s iconic desert merits the similar enhanced state review that SB 307 would provide.”
Full text of the letter follows:
May 9, 2019
Senator Anthony J. Portantino
Chair, Appropriations Committee
State Capitol, Room 3086
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Senator Portantino:
Thank you for your co-sponsorship of California State Senate Bill 307 (SB 307). I understand this bill is before the Appropriations Committee next week, and I write to express my strong support for it.
As you know, this important legislation would enhance protections for California’s desert by ensuring any future water transfers from groundwater basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the desert’s natural or cultural resources.
The Cadiz water extraction proposal illustrates why state protections of desert groundwater basins are so critical at this time. Cadiz, Inc., a private company that owns approximately 45,000 acres in the Mojave Desert, wants to exploit the aquifer underneath the land it owns and the adjacent desert. It proposes to extract these limited water resources at withdrawal rates that would decimate the aquifer, and in turn, the desert. Enhanced state review is already in place for other treasured places in California, such as Lake Tahoe, San Francisco Bay and the California coastline. I strongly believe that California’s iconic desert merits the similar enhanced state review that SB 307 would provide.
I met with Cadiz about its project in 1999, and I left with serious concerns about the project’s potential impact on the desert. With Cadiz’s knowledge, I asked the United States Geological Survey, an independent scientific federal agency, to provide an objective assessment of the natural recharge rate of the project’s targeted groundwater basins. I have attached letters from the United States Geological Survey and the National Park Service dating back to 2002 explaining their independent scientific assessments of the groundwater recharge potential of the region and summarized their findings below:
- January 15, 2002: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the aquifer recharge rate is “less than 5,000 acre feet per year.”
- February 13, 2012: National Park Service comments on the Cadiz Draft Environmental Impact Report state the groundwater recharge in the basin ranges from 4,650 to 7,750 acre feet per year “at best.” These comments also state that Cadiz’s estimates “are not reasonable and should not even be considered” and are “3 to 16 times too high.”
- May 5, 2017: USGS reconfirms its 2002 estimates stating there is “no new information that would change our recharge estimates.”
Cadiz chose to disregard these objective scientific analyses from the United States Geological Survey and the National Park Service about how devastating its proposal would be to the desert and its wildlife, as well as to local communities and industries. Instead, Cadiz continues to assert that the recharge rate for the target aquifer is 32,000 acre feet per year and proposes to extract an average of 50,000 acre feet of groundwater, or 16 billion gallons a year, from the region each year over a 50-year period.
Now, with support within the current federal Administration, Cadiz is trying to push its project forward. In September 2017, the Trump administration reversed previous Bureau of Land Management policy in order to allow the Cadiz water extraction project to proceed without requiring any federal land permits.
However, based on new scientific studies and state land ownership in the project footprint, California state agencies are questioning Cadiz’s project proposal.
For example, a recent peer-reviewed scientific study illustrates how Cadiz is incorrect in its assumption that the target aquifer is disconnected to vital desert springs. In its 2012 CEQA comment letter, the National Park Service raised this issue, calling it “inappropriate to conclude ‘a priori’ that all springs in the watershed area are hydraulically disconnected with the target aquifer.”
A new 2018 springs study, along with others, prompted the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to state in a December 2018 letter to Cadiz (attached) that the project “may pose a substantially higher risk to the spring and desert bighorn sheep than the Project EIR disclosed” and that “further analysis and environmental review of these important issues will be necessary.”
I believe SB 307 is key to ensuring desert groundwater basins are not harmfully exploited by creating a commonsense state review process that safeguards California’s fragile desert lands and groundwater basins. A healthy, vibrant California desert supports its surrounding local communities’ economies. According to the National Park Service, nearly three million visitors to Joshua Tree National Park had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $182,717,500 and supported 1,789 jobs in 2017 alone.
I am determined to continue fighting for the desert, and I greatly appreciate your help in those efforts. Please do not hesitate to contact me, or my staff, if there is anything I can do to assist. I thank you for the opportunity to support SB 307, and I hope you will help me ensure it passes the State Legislature this year.
United States Senator