Opinion: Water Project Would Hurt New National Monument

Mojave Trails National Monument | Photo: Bureau of Land Management
Mojave Trails National Monument | Photo: Bureau of Land Management

Commentary: About the time the first Cadiz project came to a screeching halt in the early 2000s, I embarked on a new photographic project that continued my focus and research on water issues in the American West. For the project titled, “Western Waters,” I made numerous road trips across the southwestern United States to approximately two hundred retail water stores to create photographs highlighting the importance, use and abuse of this public resource. 

My work addressed a growing crisis and my growing awareness about the commodification of nature, especially the idea of water as a consumer product, and our never ending thirst for additional water resources. These phenomena have been accentuated since that time and the revitalization of the Cadiz project is really ground zero for thinking deeply about how, when and to what end we utilize the California desert’s water — our “liquid gold”. 

The Cadiz Water Project seeks to pump up to 50,000 acre feet of water on average for a period of fifty years out of a fragile desert aquifer, for a total of one to two million acre-feet of water withdrawals over the lifespan of the project. The only numbers as enormous as the aggressive Cadiz pumping would be its profits — $1 to 2 billion for privatizing water resources that originate on public land.

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Though Cadiz Inc. claims that these massive water withdrawals will have no impact on groundwater and sensitive receptors like seeps and springs in the adjacent Mojave National Preserve and Mojave Trails National Monument, independent and agency hydrologists aren’t so certain. In a February 12, 2012 comment letter on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Review, the National Park Service states that, “Available evidence indicates that some springs within Mojave National Preserve likely are hydraulically continuous with the aquifer that is the target of the subject groundwater development.” 

The Cadiz project is also unsustainable by virtue of the fact that it pumps more water out of the groundwater basin than would be replaced by natural recharge. This raises a real question about our use of water in southern California, especially during the worst drought in California history when combined with the fact that the majority of the water would be outbound to Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside County water districts to fuel unsustainable growth. Does the Cadiz project really encourage our region to take a hard look at our consumptive patterns and uses, or is it merely business as usual?

Finally, Cadiz’s private land sits squarely within the newly created Mojave Trails National Monument. Back in February of 2016, President Barack Obama, acting on behalf on Senator Dianne Feinstein and countless desert residents, protected the 1.6 million acre Mojave Trails National Monument that stretches across eastern California along historic Route 66 — what John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road.”

The Presidential proclamation for Mojave Trails specifically calls for the protection of the new national monument’s groundwater resources, seeps and springs. This is important because of the potential impacts of Cadiz pumping on federal land, but also because Cadiz seeks to utilize the Arizona California Railroad Right of Way to build their seven-foot diameter, 43 mile water conveyance pipeline that would connect Cadiz pumps with the Colorado River Aqueduct.

Despite a 2015 BLM administrative decision that Cadiz must obtain a permit and undergo a federal review for this Right Of Way, the company continues to try to circumvent that scrutiny by leveraging Congressional ties to attach riders that would clear the way for them to build without federal oversight or permission. The new monument designation underscores why this is not appropriate and does not serve the public’s interest. We must have federal oversight over this important resource to reveal the true impacts of the Cadiz project on people, wildlife and our protected federal lands.

Back in the early 2000s, I noticed that our dependence on natural water sources such as rivers, aquifers, and wells was being tested daily. That trend has continued today and as we search for new innovative solutions to provide water to meet our most basic human need we must also focus on sustainability, protecting ecosystems and protecting the public’s interest.

Commentaries are the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of KCETLink.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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