A last-minute bill by State Senator Richard Roth (D- 31st District-Riverside), which seeks to give authority to the State Lands Commission in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to further review the Cadiz Water Project, passed the California State Assembly on Wednesday evening and will soon be considered by the California State Senate. Senate Bill 120 represents project opponents’ most recent attempt to thwart the development of an untapped water source in the Mojave Desert, despite the fact that the project has already withstood some of the state’s most rigorous reviews by independent peer reviewers, public agencies and California’s Superior and Appellate Courts.
Cadiz, Inc. says that its project will conserve groundwater presently lost to evaporation and high-salinity in San Bernardino County’s Cadiz Valley and deliver it to Southern California communities. The public-private partnership was developed by the company with the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD), Orange County’s second largest water agency, as well as other water providers that serve seven Southern California counties.
The Project has been extensively reviewed and analyzed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is generally regarded as the toughest environmental law in the U.S. In addition to being approved by local agencies, the Project has also received support from a wide range of labor, business and local government interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber), the state’s largest business advocacy group.
Roth’s legislation emerged late last week as a “gut-and-amend” bill, meaning that the original legislative language – which, until Friday, pertained to wages paid to in-home supportive services providers – was replaced by completely new policy proposals relating to water conveyance projects. The practice occurs most frequently in the closing days of the legislative session; the California State Legislature is set to adjourn for the year this Friday. As currently written, SB 120 singles out the Cadiz Water Project through Roth’s definition of “desert lands” and describes land which pertains only to geography specific to the Cadiz Water Project.
Courtney Degener, a spokesperson for Cadiz, sharply criticized the bill on behalf of numerous businesses that support the project, saying:
“In the last moments of the legislative session, a non-germane budget bill was gutted and amended to thwart an innovative, environmentally sustainable, locally approved and judicially validated water project that will provide clean drinking water for 400,000 households in Southern California. SB 120 is bad process, destructive policy and an unconstitutional effort to single out one company and one project for unique and unprecedented review. We join the nearly 80 organizations representing business, labor and local government in urging the State Legislature to reject the bill.”
Additional support for the sustainable use of available groundwater resources was validated earlier this year in a registered voter email survey sponsored by this publication and the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Southern California, Baldy View Chapter. Respondents from San Bernardino County, where the Cadiz project would be located, indicated they favor a combination of new water resources development and conservation to better prepare for the state’s frequent drought conditions. Sixty-two percent favored the two-part approach to preparing for future droughts but nearly 75 percent indicated they support efforts to obtain new water resources for Southern California. Seventy-one percent said they support the sustainable use of available groundwater resources for area residents.
The BIA and California Water News Daily (CWND) survey also found that the privately funded Cadiz Water Project garnered support from 74 percent of respondents. The survey results suggest that private investment in water storage projects, versus the use of public taxpayer dollars, is currently the favored method for funding these projects. Additional data gleaned from CWND’s survey shows nearly 75 percent of those responding to the emailed inquiry oppose state interference in the use of local water resources.
Although Roth’s SB 120 is supported by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a nearly identical proposal by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-43rd District-Glendale) was held in the Legislature last year, following significant opposition from fellow Democrats who argued that the project had already cleared tough federal and state environmental hurdles and that the state shouldn’t rewrite laws for just one project.