Cadiz Inc. land in the Mojave Desert

An aerial view of Cadiz Inc. land in the eastern Mojave Desert, looking northeast to Fenner Gap. The company wants to pump groundwater from beneath its holdings and sell it to Southern California cities. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2012)

A Republican congressman who represents the northern Mojave Desert has asked the federal government to launch a full-fledged environmental review of Cadiz Inc.’s proposed groundwater pumping project.

The request by U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) joins a similar one made last year by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), making a rare show of bipartisan unity on a publics lands issue.

In a June letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that was released Thursday by the National Parks Conservation Assn., Cook echoed  opponent concerns about Cadiz’s plans to pump groundwater from beneath its holdings in the eastern Mojave and sell the water to urban Southern California.

The project, Cook wrote, “is likely to impact San Bernardino County’s water resources, harming ranchers, rural communities, East Mojave landowners" and a company that mines salts from a dry lake bed near proposed wells.

“Moreover,” Cook continued, “the aggressive project pumping could harm the springs of the Mojave National Preserve and regional air quality, while exporting precious water resources out of San Bernardino County to ratepayers in Los Angeles and Orange counties.”

Cook also requested that the U.S. Geological Survey update its previous analysis of the area's hydrology, including likely effects of the pumping.

The project has been approved by San Bernardino County and was certified under state environmental law by its biggest customer, the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County. But it faces a number of environmental lawsuits as well as Feinstein’s adamant opposition.

The aquifer that Cadiz wants to tap is largely replenished by groundwater flows from beneath federal lands near the proposed project -- including the Mojave preserve, which lies to the north.

Cadiz proposes to pipe the water to the nearby Colorado River Aqueduct using an existing railroad right-of-way that crosses federal land. Feinstein and opponents argue the use of a federal right-of-way should trigger a federal environmental review.

Cadiz, a publicly held company, counters that no federal approval is necessary and says conditions imposed by the county ensure that the groundwater pumping will not harm the desert environment.

"The call for a duplicative federal review is wasteful and unnecessarily undermines the serious efforts of Southern California water providers to safely and sustainably serve the region's water needs and create local jobs," the company said Thursday in a statement.

The Interior department, which has had the matter under consideration for more than a year, is expected to soon decide whether to require approval under the National Environmental Policy Act. Such a review would slow the project and possibly produce strict conditions on the desert pumping that would make the project less attractive to investors.

Cook, a former state Assembly member and ex-Marine colonel, was elected last fall to represent a sprawling, redrawn district that covers the northern Mojave and includes the project site. Republican Jerry Lewis, who represented the Cadiz area before he retired from Congress last year, also expressed concerns about the project, according to the parks association.

For more on the Cadiz project, read:

Company wants to tap Mojave's public lands for Southland water

Carcinogen in Mojave groundwater could require costly treatment

San Bernardino County approves Cadiz groundwater pumping plan

bettina.boxall@latimes.com