State Senate Committee Blocks Effort to Scuttle Cadiz Water Project

By on September 2, 2018

A last minute bill to block the Cadiz Water Project, located in San Bernardino County, was defeated Friday night in the California State Senate on a 7-0 vote of the Appropriations Committee, just hours before the end of the legislative session.

SB 120 by Senator Richard Roth, D-Riverside, originally a budget bill focused on In-Home Supportive Services, was changed on August 24th through a long-criticized procedure called “gut and amend” to specifically target the Cadiz Water Project by placing a further obstacle before the project. The bill would have required new permission from the California State Lands Commission, an agency headed by a project opponent, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

The Cadiz Water Project, which aims to provide new water for 400,000 people, was reviewed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, and then approved by Santa Margarita Water District and separately by San Bernardino County.  These approvals were upheld and sustained by the California Court of Appeal in 2016. SB 120 would have added a new post-CEQA certification process.

Over 70 organizations from throughout California moved quickly to oppose the legislation expressing concerns about precedent set for statewide infrastructure development.

“While the bill targets one specific project, it sets a dangerous precedent and poses a potential threat to any infrastructure project in the state,” stated in a letter Hassan Ihkrata, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization.  “The opponents of the Cadiz project are attempting an end-run around the project’s lawful CEQA process.”

Some SB 120 opponents also objected to the method by which the legislation was brought to the Senate, after the measure, previously known as AB 1000, had already been blocked during the first year of the session in the Appropriations Committee.

“I actually support what you’re trying to do in the bill,” Appropriations Chairman Senator Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) said. “But I have to stand up for the integrity of the House, I have to stand up for how we do what we do.”

San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman, a former State Assemblyman, also opposed SB 120:  “At a time when we truly need to invest in our water infrastructure system, it appears that opponents, who have already had their day in Court, are using “gut and amend” to do an end-run around the Project’s lawful CEQA process and California’s esteemed Court review. Such a use of “gut and amend” should be blocked on the grounds of process alone.”

Senator Roth defended the last-minute attempt to place further impediments before Cadiz.

“The science of the Cadiz Water Project is based on a flawed process led by a self-interested agency. The discrepancies between numbers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Cadiz Inc. are alarming at best and dangerous at worst — imperiling an entire ecosystem. I am steadfast in my resolve and the conversation will continue.”

The CEQA EIR considered various levels of recharge, including the USGS study from 2000 and several other studies produced during the 2012 EIR process. The County of San Bernardino imposed a limit to groundwater withdrawals by Cadiz, to account for the different estimates. Proponents of SB 120 challenged the EIR and the County’s groundwater plan in California trial and appellate Courts. In every case, the EIR and groundwater plan were upheld.

“We have always followed the law and California’s regulatory process to ensure the project provides not just water and local jobs, but is also safe for the environment.’ said Courtney Degener, Cadiz spokeswoman. “ We are proud of our project and are appreciative of the respect for the legislative process expressed by the senate on Friday.”

The Cadiz Water Project, which guaranteed at least 20 percent of water will stay in San Bernardino County, maintains strong support among local residents.  Nearly 74 percent of San Bernardino County residents support the Cadiz project, in name and concept, according to a survey conducted last spring by the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California and California Water News Daily.  The same survey showed that a similar 74 percent of residents opposed the State of California interfering with local water use decisions.