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New State Law Will Require Additional Review of Water Transfers in the Mojave Desert, Targets Cadiz Water Project
Legislation authored by Sen. Richard Roth (D-31st District-Riverside) and signed last week by California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to require additional review of the Cadiz Water Project by various state agencies effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Adding a new section to the State’s water code known as the “wheeling” statutes, SB 307 will require the State Lands Commission to assess transfers of water from groundwater basins to ensure the transfer won’t, according to Governor Newsom’s bill signing message “unreasonably affect the environment and water dependent ecosystem in the surrounding watersheds.” The law does not regulate all statewide water transfers, only those from the Cadiz area of the Mojave Desert and the groundwater basins involved in the Cadiz Water Project.
Following Gov. Newsom’s signing of SB 307, Cadiz Inc. CEO Scott Slater issued a statement saying, “While we believe SB 307 is a troubling precedent for infrastructure development, it will not stop the Cadiz Water Project, a sustainable project designed to safely make available new water for 400,000 people in California. We stand ready to comply with SB 307, just as we have complied with all of California’s stringent environmental laws.”
The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project has undergone the review process through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) — acknowledged as the most stringent environmental law in the nation — that examined all potential impacts to biological, cultural, paleontological, water and natural scenarios. The CEQA review ultimately concluded that the operations of the project would not cause significant adverse impacts on the environment.
SB 307 was opposed by a variety of labor, business, water and community organizations concerned about the precedent of requiring additional state environmental reviews after a CEQA process has been completed. Bill proponents claimed the review would not be a CEQA do-over, but instead a review focused on reconciling science and required for special areas of California.
“We look forward to working closely with the Governor’s office, the State Lands Commission and other State Agencies as we complete this public, and transparent procedural step and we are confident that we will continue to demonstrate that the Project is environmentally sound and a worthy part of the solution to California’s persistent water supply challenges,” said Slater. “California is home to over a million people who lack access to safe, clean, reliable drinking water. Over the long-term we face a statewide supply-demand imbalance that requires a successful water resiliency strategy, especially if we seek to achieve the State’s objectives of providing water and housing for all. We believe a fact-based evaluation of the Project conducted under the Governor’s watchful eye will undoubtedly conclude we can sustainably contribute to this effort.”
In addition to the Cadiz Water Plan’s CEQA review, the project also submitted to an evaluation by San Bernardino County (SBC) which adopted a Groundwater Management, Monitoring, and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) to ensure environmental safety. SBC has imposed an extensive groundwater management plan that requires regular reporting and annual review for the next 50 years. The county also imposed a “stopper” on groundwater withdrawals at 80 feet. Groundwater at Cadiz’s Mojave Desert property extends in excess of 1,000 feet below ground surface, so the company’s use is significantly limited by this plan. Additionally, the Plan and the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) were validated in both the California Superior and Appellate Courts.
Cadiz announced that it intends to support additional study of area springs by a multidisciplinary panel that will be overseen by Three Valleys Municipal Water District prior to filing an application with the State Lands Commission. SLC will have 15 months to complete its review.
Cadiz said it will focus on its agricultural business and storage projects while the review process proceeds.
“… SB 307, which regulates the transfer of groundwater from Cadiz into urban Southern California, does not affect our ongoing efforts to conserve and efficiently use groundwater in our substantial agricultural ventures,” said Slater. “SB 307 also does not limit the direct delivery of water or the storage of imported water at Cadiz as evaluated in the Project’s court-approved permits. We will continue to pursue these opportunities concurrently with compliance with SB 307 and the remaining permitting milestones for the Water Project.”