MOJAVE DESERT: Dispute May Derail Cadiz Plan to Tap Ancient Aquifers


A pipeline to help move supplies from the Mojave to cities cannot use railroad right-of-way, feds say. As a result, Cadiz will have to submit a right-of-way application, which requires a federal environmental review with public participation.

Federal land managers have dealt a blow to the controversial Cadiz project that would draw water from ancient aquifers in the Mojave Desert and pipe it to cities across California.

The Bureau of Land Management rejected a proposal by the Los Angeles-based company to use a railroad right-of-way across public lands for its 43-mile pipeline. As a result, Cadiz will have to submit a right-of-way application, which requires a federal environmental review with public participation, said Martha Maciel, a spokeswoman for the bureau in Sacramento.

In an Oct. 2 letter to the company, the BLM said Arizona and California Railroad Co. could not allow use of its right-of-way by Cadiz because the water project does not “derive from or further a railroad purpose,” as required. If the project proceeds on the right-of-way without its permission, the agency could start trespass proceedings, the BLM said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Cadiz plan proposes tapping desert groundwater

Cadiz President Scott Slater said Tuesday he would push for BLM leaders to rescind the opinion. Barring that, Slater said he will take the case to federal court.

“We’re very disappointed that politics would overcome substance. But we’ve planned for this and we’ll soldier on,” he said.

The pipeline was intentionally proposed along the railroad, rather than across open public lands, to avoid environmental impacts, Slater said.

But critics of the $225 million Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project have long called use of the right-of-way a ploy by the company to avoid federal review of its groundwater pumping project.

David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, praised the BLM determination.

He questioned the neutrality of an earlier review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act because it was done by the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, which would receive water from the project.

“We’re excited it’s back to a more open process. We have confidence that sound science will be used to make a decision,” said Lamfrom, whose group, and others, sued to block the project.

Even if Cadiz were to submit a right-of-way application, the BLM cannot process it. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., attached an amendment to the 2014 Department of the Interior appropriations bill - the eighth year in a row - prohibiting the BLM from spending money reviewing any applications for water conveyance through the railroad right-of-way.

Feinstein, an ardent desert supporter who authored the California Desert Protection Act more than 20 years ago, is pushing to have the Cadiz Valley included in her proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, one of three new monuments she is advocating.

“I remain concerned the Cadiz project could damage the Mojave Desert beyond repair and believe the BLM decision to deny the right-of-way is the right one,” Feinstein said in a statement. “I’ll continue to work through the Appropriations Committee to block any additional attempts to draw down this aquifer. We need to use water more responsibly, not less, and the Cadiz project is a bad idea.”

The Cadiz company wants to extract groundwater from beneath 45,000 acres the company owns south of the Marble Mountains, 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms. The area lies between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in eastern San Bernardino County.