California Water News Daily 4-8-17
The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project in the Mojave Desert have received a major boost from the Trump administration this week with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) removal of two agency instructional memoranda, or IMs, that formed the basis of a 2015 review of the Cadiz project. A March 1 letter from a bipartisan group of Congressional members specifically requests that the BLM’s 2012 & 2014 policy framework on proposed uses of existing railroad corridors, or rights-of-way, be immediately withdrawn thereby setting the stage for not only the Cadiz project to move ahead but to uncloud a number of other infrastructure uses of these corridors.
At issue is the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 and the project’s use of a right-of-way granted pursuant to the act. In 2009, US Department of the Interior issued a letter stating that the Project’s pipeline was within the scope of the right-of-way and could proceed without additional permits. However, in October 2015, after the Obama Administration issued the IMs, the BLM, an Interior agency, provided a summary evaluation to Cadiz stating that any use of an 1875 Act right-of-way would require federal permitting and environmental review, because its pipeline did not originate from a railroad purpose. Cadiz was the first railroad tenant held to such a standard and the evaluation had a myriad of historical ramifications.
The reversal of this new policy and the 2015 Cadiz evaluation has been a priority of a bi-partisan group of members of Congress. In March, eighteen House Members from various Western States wrote to Interior to request a withdrawal of the IMs and the Cadiz evaluation,
“Aside from the unfairness of moving the goalposts on Cadiz, BLM’s arbitrary new standard has major ramifications for every existing activity within an 1875 Act right-of-way. For example, railroads may no longer be legally able to authorize the use of their respective rights-of-way to third parties for critical infrastructure, such as water pipelines, power lines, telecommunication lines, and fiber-optic cables, even when those activities further a railroad purpose and were co-located in compliance with the long-standing prior standard. We understand that there are currently over 3,500 individual instances of third-party uses of the 1875 Act rights-of-way over federal lands and each is threatened by this new BLM standard.”
The BLM has not yet withdrawn Cadiz’s 2015 evaluation.
The Cadiz Water Project seeks to capture groundwater in California’s Fenner Valley that would otherwise rise to the surface and evaporate. The water would be pumped on Cadiz’s properties and the captured water would be conveyed via a 43-mile buried pipeline, in a right-of-way held by the Arizona and California Railroad (ARZC) that crosses BLM land to the Colorado River Aqueduct. No facilities would be built on federal land. The water would then later be distributed to Southern California communities in need of reliable water sources.
The Congressional letter cites the project’s Environmental Impact Report that said, “…in the absence of the Project, approximately three million acre-feet of groundwater presently held in storage between the proposed well field and the Dry Lakes would become saline and evaporate over the next 100 years.”
The $225 million Cadiz project – one of the 50 projects on President Trump’s high priority infrastructure list – is unique in that it requires no public funding, will create nearly $1 billion in economic stimulus through investments in local businesses and will create upwards of 6,000 new jobs, ten percent of which are reserved for veterans. Cadiz is headquartered in Los Angeles.
The project has been opposed by California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) and several environmental groups claiming that the project would have a detrimental impact on California’s desert. She claims the Cadiz project would draw out up to 10 times more water from the desert aquifer than can be naturally recharged, and cause harm to the desert environment.
But Cadiz’s CEO Scott Slater has countered Sen. Feinstein’s allegation saying that, “Senator Feinstein regrettably relies on outdated, 17-year old data inconsistent with presently known facts as foundation to oppose a project which will safely and sustainably create new water for 400,000 people, has broad bipartisan community support, will generate 5,900 new jobs, and will drive nearly $1 billion in economic growth. Two public agencies and twelve separate court opinions have expressly repudiated her arguments and sustained our project in accordance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), the highest environmental legal standard anywhere in America.”
In 2016, the California Court of Appeal upheld the Cadiz Water Project’s environmental reviews and permits against claims brought by environmental opponents. The Courts found no flaws in the review process or the Project’s proposal or groundwater management plan.