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If Cadiz Inc. goes forward with its plan to pump 50 billion gallons of water out of the aquifer in the desert east of Twentynine Palms, the process cannot adversely affect the groundwater, habitat, or natural or cultural resources of the state and federal lands. Cadiz Inc. plans to pump water from below the desert and send it to Orange County. Newsom said in a signing statement that the desert’s “fragile ecosystem has existed, in balance, for centuries. Prior to allowing any project to move forward there must be certainty that it will not threaten the important natural and cultural resources.”

Cadiz Inc. photo

The bill will ensure that independent scientific analysis is conducted and reviewed prior to any major water transfer. Cadiz said in a statement that its project is “environmentally sound” and while the company intends to comply with the law’s requirements, it says the law sets a “troubling precedent.”

Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing statement:

Governor Gavin Newsom

“I am signing Senate Bill 307, which requires the State Lands Commission, in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Water Resources, to find that the transfer of the water from a groundwater basin underlying specified desert lands will not adversely affect the natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or habitat, of those federal and state lands in order for that transfer to be allowed.

“Water has flowed underneath the Mojave for thousands of years, sustaining the Native Americans, bighorn sheep, the threatened desert tortoise and a variety of other plant and animal life that have made the Mojave Desert their home.

“This fragile ecosystem has existed in balance for centuries. Prior to allowing any project to move forward there must be certainty that it will not threaten the important natural and cultural resources.

“SB 307 will ensure that independent scientific, analysis is conducted and reviewed in a public and transparent process. Such a process will determine if any major water transfer project in the Mojave desert will unreasonably affect the environment and water dependent ecosystem in the surrounding watersheds prior to any project being approved.”

Cadiz CEO Scott Slater made the following statement following Governor Newsom’s action:

“While we believe SB 307 is a troubling precedent for infrastructure development, it will not stop the Cadiz Water Project, a sustainable project designed to safely make available new water for 400,000 people in California.  We stand ready to comply with SB 307, just as we have complied with all of California’s stringent environmental laws.

“We look forward to working closely with the Governor’s office, the State Lands Commission and other State Agencies as we complete this public, and transparent procedural step and we are confident that we will continue to demonstrate that the Project is environmentally sound and a worthy part of the solution to California’s persistent water supply challenges.

“California is home to over a million people who lack access to safe, clean, reliable drinking water. Over the long-term we face a statewide supply-demand imbalance that requires a successful water resiliency strategy, especially if we seek to achieve the State’s objectives of providing water and housing for all. We believe a fact-based evaluation of the Project conducted under the Governor’s watchful eye will undoubtedly conclude we can sustainably contribute to this effort.”

“Importantly, SB 307, which regulates the transfer of groundwater from Cadiz into urban Southern California, does not affect our ongoing efforts to conserve and efficiently use groundwater in our substantial agricultural ventures. SB 307 also does not limit the direct delivery of water or the storage of imported water at Cadiz as evaluated in the Project’s court-approved permits. We will continue to pursue these opportunities concurrently with compliance with SB 307 and the remaining permitting milestones for the Water Project.”


Tami Roleff photo

The California Assembly passed legislation Thursday that will require a new and independent environmental review of the proposed Cadiz project that would pump 50 billion gallons of water out of an aquifer in the Mojave Desert east of Twentynine Palms. The law, SB 307, would require groundwater-pumping projects, such as Cadiz, to first obtain an independent environmental review to verify that the project will not adversely impact desert water supplies, wildlife, or the landscape. The review must be completed within 15 to 24 months from the application of the project. And the environmental review must be done by an independent agency that does not benefit from the project. Governor Gavin Newsom has 12 days to either sign the bill or veto it.

Cadiz statement:

“As our Governor has repeatedly emphasized, California continues to suffer from chronic water supply and affordable housing shortages.  These problems are not unrelated.  Solutions to these two critical problems depend on infrastructure improvements that are opposed at every turn.  Bills like SB 307 will make solutions even tougher to achieve. Should the bill be enacted however, Cadiz will embrace fair, open and transparent review of science.  We are abundantly confident the Project is safe and sustainable.”


National Parks Conservation Association statement:

“By passing SB 307, the California legislature has sent a message to the Trump administration that science matters and will not be ignored when it comes to protecting our national treasures from the reckless Cadiz groundwater mining project,” said David Lamfrom, California Desert and Wildlife Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “For the first time, Cadiz will be subject to independent scientific review, which will no doubt prove that the numbers previously used by the company just don’t add up. Senator Richard Roth is a desert, national park and water defender for authoring this legislation to ensure that desert groundwater pumping can serve long-term needs of our wild lands, local communities and businesses.”



Cadiz Inc. photo

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the reversal of a policy by the Bureau of Land Management in 2017 to allow Cadiz Inc. to pump 16 billion gallons of water from an aquifer in the Mojave Desert was “arbitrary and capricious.” Under the Obama administration, the BLM said in 2015 that Cadiz could not use a railroad right-of-way for a water pipeline from Cadiz to the California aqueduct without getting federal permission and an environmental review.

In 2017, the BLM under the Trump administration reversed itself and said Cadiz could use the right-of-way and didn’t need the environmental review. Judge George Wu said the BLM failed to explain “why it considered the same facts in 2015 and 2017 but came to opposing conclusions….” He sent the matter back to the BLM for reconsideration. Cadiz said in a statement that it is confident that the “BLM will swiftly prepare an amended letter responsive to the remand and completely compliant with the Court’s direction.”


The water in Bonanza Spring flows continuously, year-round. This is about 1/2 mile from where the spring comes out of the ground.

The Cadiz water project—which aims to pump 16 billion gallons of water from an aquifer in the Mojave Desert east of Twentynine Palms and ship it to Orange County—has had its ups and downs for nearly two decades. Critics of the project say that Cadiz will deplete the aquifer by pumping out more water than can be replaced naturally; Cadiz claims that in 50 years, the water in the aquifer will only be depleted by 3 to 13 percent. On the plus side for Cadiz, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for the Cadiz Water Project. A bill in the California legislature that would have imposed additional review on the Cadiz water pumping project failed to pass in the state Senate earlier this year. Multiple lawsuits attempting to stop the Cadiz water project have failed. But, on the minus side, municipal water districts have failed to sign up to purchase water from Cadiz. Managing editor Tami Roleff says another roadblock for the project has come up—this one from the state government…
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was recently reviewing the environmental impact report for the Cadiz water project—which was completed in 2012—and determined that the EIR is flawed and outdated, and that new science demands a more thorough look at the project’s likely environmental harms. A six-page letter to Cadiz’s chief executive officer Scott Slater, said that near-by Bonanza Springs, which serves as a water source for many animals, including the federally protected bighorn sheep, is connected to the Cadiz aquifer. Cadiz has disputed this, but new scientific studies show there Bonanza Springs there is a connection to the Cadiz aquifer, “raising the potential of a substantially increased risk of negative impacts to the desert bighorn sheep that frequent Bonanza Springs.” Pumping from the aquifer would harm the springs and the animals who depend on it. The letter concludes that “Further analysis and additional review” is necessary.

Excerpts from the December 4, 2018, letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to Scott Slater:
“In the course of its review the Department identified information of substantial importance that was developed after the District certified the Project EIR. This new information indicates the Project may cause significant effects not discussed or substantially more severe effects than shown in the Project EIR….
“The Department appreciates the District as CEQA lead agency certified the Project EIR on July 31, 2012; that the District drew related litigation; and that those challenges have run their course…. With that, the Project EIR stands as certified and the Project EIR is presumed adequate as a matter of law…. Finally, the Department appreciates that, with the presumption of legal adequacy attached to the Project EIR, subsequent or supplemental environmental review is disfavored and is the exception to the rule under Public Resources Code section 21166. Indeed, a responsible agency may only determine subsequent or supplemental review is necessary in limited circumstances…. One such circumstance exists where new information of substantial importance shows a project will have a significant effect not discussed in the certified EIR or that significant effects previously examined in the EIR will be substantially more severe…. This may likely be the case here.
“In its review of Project information in preparation for the Project LSA [lake and streambed alteration] notification, the Department identified additional data and reports developed or releases since Project EIR certification and relevant to the Project….
“In addition, the Department began installing GPS collars on desert bighorn sheep … in the area of the Project in 2013. The department has collected extensive GPS data on the species’ movement and use of springs, including Bonanza Spring.

“The roject EIR considered the connection between the groundwater aquifer underlying the Project wellfield and nearby springs and concluded the springs were hydrologically disconnected from the groundwater aquifer…. The Project EIR identified impacts to desert bighorn sheep to be less than significant…. The new information available in recent technical reports, however, demonstrate a hydrologic connection between the aquifer underlying the Project pumping site and nearby Bonanza Spring. The recently collected GPS collar data indicate that desert bighorn sheep utilize Bonanza Spring. Based on the Department’s review of this new information, the Department believes the Project EIR would not be adequate for the Department’s use, as a CEQA responsible agency and the public trustee for wildlife, for regulatory approval of a Project LSA agreement….
“Analysis of the newly collected data indicates that Bonanza Spring is not solely locally sourced from a perched aquifer; this is contrary to the conclusion of the Project EIR that there is no hydraulic continuity between area springs and the regional groundwater table. Bonanza Spring is located in a 50-acre watershed and its flow has remained consistent over periodic measurements since 1929, even during drought periods. Measured spring temperatures are 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average annual ambient air temperature, indicating that the spring water traveled from significant depth….
“In addition to the recent data and reports establishing that Bonanza Spring is fed from a deep regional aqifer rather than a local perched aquifer, chemical and isotopic analyses of groundwater from the Project area and from Bonanza Spring show that Bonanza Spring is connected to groundwater in the Fenner Valley where the Project wellfield is located. The spring and the wellfield share a similar Na-HCO3 chemical composition…. Together, the hydrologic characteristics and the isotopic and geochemical data for Bonanza Spring and other nearby groundwater sources demonstrate that Bonanza Spring and Fenner Valley groundwater underlying the Project wellfield rely on the same precipitation source and are hydraulically connected…
“Since certification of the EIR, information from the recent hydrological reports and desert bighorn sheep GPS collar data raise the specter that impacts to this species may be substantially more severe than the Project EIR discussed.
“In short, the best available science regarding the Project and its potentially significant impacts to nearby Bonanza Spring and desert bighorn sheep has progressed since the District certified the Project EIR. The new information available to the Department does not arise from a single source, but is an accumulation of information from various sources over the past several years. The information from isotopic and chemical analyses of water samples demonstrates a previously unknown connection between the groundwater underlying the Project wellfield and Bonanza Spring. While the Project EIR and the monitoring protocol assumed that Bonanza Spring was hydraulically disconnected from groundwater, subsequent reports demonstrate that Bonanza Spring is connected to the aquifer underlying the Project wellfield. Based on this new information, the Project’s groundwater source is now seen to be connected to the spring, raising the potential of a substantially increased risk of negative impacts to the desert bighorn sheep that frequent Bonanza Spring….
“Further analysis and additional review of these important issues will be necessary for the Department to evaluate the anticipated LSA notification, to consider and take appropriate action in response under the Fish and Game Code, and to fulfill the Department’s public trust responsibility.”

Bonanza Springs

Bonanza Springs at the base of the Clipper Mountains.

A layer of haze covers the Mojave Desert. Looking down the springs toward Cadiz and the Old Woman Mountains.


Conservation advocates say it’s now or never to protect the Cadiz aquifer underneath the Mojave Trails National Monument in the southern California
desert. A bill protecting the aquifer passed in the state Assembly, and needs to be passed by the state Senate today. Managing editor Tami Roleff explains…

The state legislative session ends today, so supporters are urging state lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 120, which would require the controversial Cadiz Water Project to undergo state review, even as the Trump administration has moved to fast-track it. David Lamfrom with the National Parks Conservation Association says the plan to transfer desert water to seven southern California cities is flawed.

"New science indicates that this project would drain 16 billion gallons of water per year from an ancient aquifer, which feeds desert springs – which are critical for native culture, for wildlife in the region and for our national parks and our national monuments."

Conservation groups worry that animals like the endangered bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise will perish if the natural springs they depend on dry up. The Trump administration says a federal review is unnecessary, and the developer maintains it would not harm the aquifer and would create jobs.

Lamfrom says most Californians oppose the feds' effort to bypass environmental safeguards.

"People understand that in a place like the California desert, that it is vital to protect our water sources because water is so rare and precious in this place."

A slew of leaders in the Golden State have announced their support for S-B 120, including Governor Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and multiple Native American tribes.

The State Assembly passed S-B 120 on Wednesday. It now needs a vote in the Senate.