Bill to impose more scrutiny on controversial Mojave Desert water project gets last-minute push

August 27, 2018

By Melanie Mason

Environmentalists are mounting a last-minute bid in the final week of the California legislative session to revive a stalled effort to require more review for a project to pump more groundwater from the Mojave Desert.

The project by Cadiz Inc. to sell that water to urban Southern California has been the subject of a long-running political drama. It was blocked by the Obama administration, then revived under President Trump

A 2017 measure by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) that sought to impede the project has languished in a state Senate committee. Now, the effort has a new shot at life through an 11th-hour bill by state Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside).

The measure, Senate Bill 120, is substantially similar to Friedman’s bill. It gives the state Lands Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife the authority to analyze the Cadiz project to make sure the pumping would not adversely affect the surrounding lands.

“Today, we find ourselves asking a critical question: should we ensure that the scientific process we have historically used to guide our public policy decisions continue to be applied to this project?” Roth said in a statement. “If the Federal government abdicates their responsibilities, as they have done in this case, the Legislature is duty-bound to ensure our decisions are scientifically sound. For that reason, I am proud to author SB 120.”

The proposal surfaced on Friday as a gut-and-amend, a legislative maneuver to insert new policy into an existing, unrelated bill. 

“In the last moments of the legislative session a non-germane budget bill was gutted and amended to thwart an innovative, environmentally benign, locally approved and judicially validated water project that will provide clean drinking water for 400,000 households in Southern California,” said Courtney Degener, a spokesperson for Cadiz. “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 over 50 organizations who have quickly urged the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources to reject the bill.”

Friedman, who carried the original measure, is a co-author on the new bill. She cast the legislation as part of an effort to “defend our environment from profiteers that seek to drain our most precious resource for a quick buck.”

“SB 120 will preserve a vulnerable groundwater basin from any development that threatens the viability of the environment and the local economy that depends upon it,” Friedman said.