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BLM determines Cadiz Water Project Can Construct in Railroad Right-of-Way
The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a letter to Cadiz Inc., the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) and the Arizona & California Railroad (ARZC) concluding that the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project’s proposed use of the existing ARZC right-of-way to construct a pipeline and related railroad improvements “furthers railroad purposes” and that the Project is within the scope of the original right-of-way grant. Already permitted in accordance with California environmental law, the Cadiz Project will conserve water presently lost to evaporation at the base of a vast Mojave Desert watershed to create a new water supply for approximately 400,000 people.
Additionally, the BLM letter officially withdrew the agency’s controversial October 2015 evaluation of the Project. The earlier review sought to keep Cadiz Inc. and its partners from using the utilizing the right-of-way as a means to block the Project from proceeding. With the recent BLM letter, no additional federal authorizations are required for construction to begin within the ARZC railroad corridor.
According to Cadiz Inc., the project is a public–private partnership between the company, which is the largest private landowner in the area, and public water providers in Southern California. The Project aims to provide a new, reliable water supply of 50,000 acre-feet per year for 50 years across the region without harm to the environment. With the determination by the BLM, Cadiz says it will move forward to “final engineering design, contract arrangements with participating agencies and a conveyance agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California per applicable law.”
“The company is very pleased to receive this letter from the BLM regarding the Project’s proposed use of the railroad right-of-way,” said Scott Slater, Cadiz President and CEO. “We have long maintained that the 2015 evaluation by BLM was wrong on the law, wrong on the facts and inconsistent with the policy driving co-location of infrastructure in existing rights-of-way to minimize project footprints and environmental harm.” Slater continued “We are grateful for the determined bi-partisan Congressional effort that sought a deeper, fair and unbiased review of the Project’s proposed use of the right-of-way by BLM and are tremendously satisfied to finally have this matter resolved.”
Multiple requests from bi-partisan congressional representatives as well as a broad coalition of national labor organizations, farmers and numerous stakeholders, water districts and rural communities– along with railroad — had urged congressional action to clarify the scope of railroad rights-of-way over federal lands. They had criticized BLM’s October 2015 evaluation of the Cadiz Water Project for its lack of consistency with historic policy encouraging co-location of infrastructure in railroad rights-of-way. The October 2015 decision set a troubling precedent for thousands of miles of existing uses of railroad rights-of-way in the West as well as the Cadiz Water Project.
The BLM letter to Cadiz says it relies on a new Memorandum Opinion issued by the US Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office and recent case law to conclude that “authorizing the proposed activity falls within the scope of rights granted to the Arizona and California Railroad (ARZC) under the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of March 3, 1875 (1875 Act), and therefore does not require authorization by BLM.”
Additionally, the BLM letter finds that the project furthers railroad purposes, following a factual review of the its railroad benefits: “As the railroad itself describes, these component elements of the Cadiz project all provide critical benefits to the railroad that facilitate elements of its operations. Accordingly, consistent with the incidental use doctrine, the benefits associated with the Cadiz Project further a railroad purpose.”
Brad Ovitt, President of the ARZC commented on the new letter that the railroad is “pleased with the new Cadiz evaluation by the Bureau of Land Management, and are hopeful the Project pipeline will soon be built and begin providing important benefits to the Arizona & California Railway.”