By Floyd E. Wicks
San Bernardino Sun
August 7, 2013 – Despite last year’s approval of the Cadiz Valley Water Project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) — long considered the nation’s toughest environmental law — a handful of project opponents are now pushing for an expensive and time-consuming federal “do over.” Doing so disrespects our state’s environmental process, discounts the voices of supportive stakeholders and impedes needed water supplies and jobs for thousands. Here’s why the idea of a federal process should be summarily rejected:
First, a new federal review would be a waste of taxpayer dollars. The federal government already approved and certified a larger form of the Cadiz project 12 years ago. A second stringent, multi-year CEQA review process was completed in 2012. The project, which will sustainably deliver 50,000 acre-feet of water a year to roughly 100,000 families, was reviewed and approved by two different California agencies — the County of San Bernardino and the Santa Margarita Water District, Orange County’s second-largest public water agency. Because of the CEQA process, the project includes significant protections for the environment and a rigorous, state-of-the-art groundwater management program that will be enforced by the county.
Second, mandating a federal review ignores the voices of thousands of local stakeholders who already participated in the public process, including lengthy hearings. Numerous government agencies (including federal agencies), independent groups, scientists and hundreds of individuals reviewed and commented on the project proposal. Nearly 2,500 San Bernardino County residents participated in support of the project. And the voluminous, certified Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) addressed each and every point raised.
Third, under existing law no federal review is required! It has been long-standing government policy to encourage important infrastructure, such as telecommunications lines and pipelines, to be installed along the nation’s existing railroads. This common practice serves the public’s clear interest in constructing infrastructure projects where they do the least environmental harm. Cadiz specifically chose an active railroad route to avoid untouched desert lands. This route was fully analyzed and approved as the best option during the environmental review and should be embraced. A call to reinterpret laws for the purpose of increasing bureaucracy shouldn’t be tolerated.
Finally, calling for an additional “process clock” just serves to delay water supplies and jobs Southern Californians desperately need. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources, the state faces severe and unmet long-term water supply challenges to traditional sources. A recently released government report tells us that Southern California’s imported water supplies may be reduced by 35 percent if we can’t move forward with Bay Delta improvements. Local solutions are needed. San Bernardino County businesses and residents are entitled to 20 percent of the local water conserved by the Cadiz project and the project also will provide supplies in five other Southern California counties.
Meanwhile, John Husing, a leading local economist, estimates project construction will create an $850 million boost to the Inland Empire economy and produce 5,900 short-term jobs. With San Bernardino County unemployment hovering above 10 percent, such jobs are also sorely needed.
The project has been approved with broad support under the most stringent environmental law in the land and will provide a plethora of benefits. Let’s not allow opponents to change the rules after the game because they didn’t like the outcome. It’s time to confront our water supply challenges and move ahead with innovative strategies like the Cadiz project. I invite Congressman Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, and his staff to a meeting to review the project’s myriad benefits to San Bernardino County and, more specifically, to his constituency.
Floyd Wicks is a water resources engineer with over 35 years of experience in the water industry, including roles as president of American States Water Co. and SouthWest Water Co. He is a consultant on the Cadiz project.