By Tony Cardenas and Paul Cook
California is home to amazing natural resources, a diverse economy and a hard-working population eager to flourish. However, we don’t have sufficient water to meet the needs of all who call California home.
That’s why we are both among a broad, bipartisan group of more than 40 federal and state representatives who support the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. This project will provide a reliable water supply and is sponsored jointly by public water agencies in Southern California and Cadiz Inc., the largest private landowner in the eastern Mojave Desert and the sponsor of the largest desert tortoise conservation bank in California.
The Cadiz Water Project will create a new water supply for approximately 400,000 people by conserving groundwater presently lost to evaporation at the base of a vast Mojave Desert watershed that, experts say, holds 17 million to 34 million acre-feet of groundwater. At the base of the watershed, the intense desert heat acts as a vacuum, pulling the groundwater up through the surface so it evaporates — a terrible waste given our ongoing statewide water challenges.
An average of 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater, less than 0.003 percent of the water in the aquifer system, can be conserved every year without causing a single adverse environmental impact or any disruption of existing uses. A stringent San Bernardino County-enforced groundwater management plan will constantly monitor the project and can shut down operations prior to any adverse impacts.
Following 100 years of federal policy encouraging the use of existing corridors for infrastructure across public lands, the project’s facilities will be built on private agricultural properties and a pipeline will use an existing, disturbed railroad corridor to avoid crossing virgin public land.
The Cadiz project is expected to create and support approximately 6,000 jobs. Materials will be supplied by American companies operating in California, many near the site. Local building trades have signed project labor agreements and more than half the people hired must be local residents, and 10 percent must be veterans. Project construction will be funded with private dollars, it will generate nearly $1 billion in local economic activity and increase local property tax rolls by nearly $6 million annually over the long term.
Since 2010, the Cadiz Water Project has undergone extensive environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), including hydrological studies by independent scientists, a public comment period, approvals by two state agencies, and then challenges in California’s courts. The project was upheld completely by trial courts and the California Court of Appeal, so its environmental planning under our state’s stringent laws has been confirmed as sound.
Despite this, the California Legislature is currently considering a bill that aims to stop the project from being constructed. Assembly Bill 1000 not only affects the Cadiz Water Project after its CEQA clearance, it would also impact other desert water projects and set a worrying precedent for any new project in California.
At a time when California must do better to develop sustainable infrastructure, affordable housing and good-paying jobs, this measure sends the wrong message to our labor and working-class communities. If this bill were to become law, no longer would they be able to count on the conclusion of California’s strict environmental permitting process as the green light for improvements to their communities and livelihood.
The Cadiz Water Project offers water, work and economic opportunity while protecting the Mojave Desert’s environment. It has complied with California’s stringent environmental laws. We are proud to be among a diverse group of stakeholders who support it. AB1000 will have unfortunate consequences in California far beyond this project, and we urge our colleagues in the Legislature to reject this bill.
Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Panorama City, represents California’s 29th Congressional District. Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, represents California’s 8th Congressional District.