Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration’s OK of Corporation’s Plan to Drain California Desert Aquifer
From the Center for Biological Diversity:
Conservation and health-safety groups today filed suit in federal court challenging the Trump administration’s approval of an enormous groundwater-mining and pipeline project in Southern California. The Cadiz water project, approved without environmental review, includes the construction of a pipeline through the Mojave Trails National Monument and other public lands in the area.
Today’s lawsuit notes that the Trump administration reversed two Obama administration decisions and wrongly concluded that the Cadiz project’s 43-mile pipeline did not require any federal Bureau of Land Management permits or approvals. The BLM is allowing the developer to build the pipeline within an existing railroad right-of-way, paving the way for Cadiz to pump 16 billion gallons of water a year from the fragile desert aquifer to sprawling new developments in Southern California.
“The Cadiz project will suck the desert dry while developers count their money,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s an unsustainable water-privatization scheme. Pumping ancient groundwater from the Mojave Desert to water suburban lawns in Orange County will devastate desert wildlife and the entire ecosystem relying on that water for survival.”
If allowed to move forward, the Cadiz water-mining project would drain life-giving springs in the Mojave Trails National Monument and surrounding public lands, killing vegetation and destroying key habitat for a host of desert wildlife, including the threatened desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and kit foxes. Hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey determined that the Cadiz project is unsustainable and that the company’s privately funded study vastly overstates the aquifer’s recharge rate.
“The Trump administration’s approval of the Cadiz project is crony capitalism at its worst,” said Adam Keats, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “So much life relies on this precious desert groundwater, yet under Trump apparently the only thing that matters is how much money you have and who your friends are in government.”
The project’s approval followed the appointment of David Bernhardt, a deputy Interior Department secretary and former lobbyist for Cadiz. Bernhardt’s former employer, the Washington-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, continues to represent Cadiz.
“Cadiz, Inc. is just another corporation looking to profit by selling off an irreplaceable public resource,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice who is representing the groups filing suit. “The Trump administration would love to give Cadiz a free pass around our environmental laws, but we’re not going to let that happen.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety have also filed public records requests for documents that could shed light on the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to allow the Cadiz project to move forward.
In addition to Earthjustice, the groups are represented by Adam Keats at the Center for Food Safety and Aruna Prabhala and Lisa Belenky at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Cadiz, Inc. responds to Center for Biological Diversity Lawsuit
Today, as expected, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a lawsuit against the US Department of the Interior and US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) challenging BLM’s recent review of the Cadiz Water Project’s proposed use of an active railroad right-of-way for its water conveyance pipeline and appurtenant improvements that provide critical railroad benefits to the host railroad. CBD previously sued the Santa Margarita Water District, the County of San Bernardino and Cadiz in California’s State Court system, challenging the adequacy of environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the County’s approval of a groundwater management plan for the Project. All California Superior and Appellate Court opinions issued over four years from 2012 – 2016 have denied CBD’s claims and validated the Project’s approvals and environmental review in their entirety. The Company issued the following statement upon learning of CBD’s new case against the federal government:
“The Cadiz Water Project is a California environmentally-reviewed, approved and judicially-validated project that will safely and sustainably provide new water for 400,000 people and bring jobs and economic opportunity to local labor, veteran and disadvantaged communities without harm to the environment.
The Center for Biological Diversity and its co-litigants have lost every case they have previously brought challenging this safe and sustainable project, and have now put themselves in the incredible and untenable position of opposing the safest, most environmentally sensitive route for our pipeline – a disturbed existing active railroad corridor – in their naked attempt to delay water and jobs for Southern California.
The action of the Interior Department last month rescinded a controversial 2015 evaluation of the Project’s proposed use of a railroad right-of-way for its pipeline by the previous administration. The flawed 2015 evaluation was widely opposed by Democrat and Republican members of Congress, railroads, labor, agriculture and infrastructure companies, because it failed to apply the law and broke with long-standing federal policy encouraging less impactful co-location of infrastructure in railroad right of ways.
The new evaluation issued by the US Bureau of Land Management in October 2017 correctly applied applicable law, returned to long-established federal policy and was widely supported. Rather than challenging this new determination – one which actually protects federal lands – CBD could be working with Project proponents to provide needed water and aquifer storage in Southern California and a host of environmental benefits. Instead, CBD is pursuing a flawed legal strategy that appears to only benefit its fundraising efforts.
We are not a party to this lawsuit and will not comment directly on the merits. Rather, we note that for nearly a decade CBD and its allies have made multiple factually unsupported claims about the Project that have been rejected by every public agency and Court of Law that has ever considered them. We expect the same outcome in this instance.”
Senator Feinstein weighs in: Cadiz, Trump Administration Can’t Ignore Law
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today issued the following statement on a lawsuit to overturn a Trump administration decision that would allow Cadiz to use a railroad right-of-way without any federal environmental review for its water extraction project in the Mojave Desert:
“Cadiz and the Trump administration may not like the law, but they can’t ignore it. Rather than follow legal precedent, the acting Interior solicitor instead disregarded two separate federal court decisions concerning the scope of railroad rights-of-way.
“Cadiz’s project would be a disaster for the Mojave Desert. It wants to drain more than 50,000 acre-feet a year from a desert aquifer that’s natural recharge rate is only 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet a year.
“This water also contains numerous dangerous contaminants including arsenic and cancer-causing Chromium-6, but nothing in Cadiz’s proposal indicates how it would make the water safe.
“The company’s recent ‘pause’ indicates it has no plan to address the many problems associated with its project. Instead, it relied on its friends in the Trump administration to clear any hurdles. This lawsuit shows Cadiz that won’t happen without a fight.”
Sign up for daily emails and get all the Notebook’s aggregated and original water news content delivered to your email box by 9AM. Breaking news alerts, too. Sign me up!
About News Worth Noting: News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations. News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms. If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.