Commentary

Long-term commitment to California’s water resources is essential

Throughout the history of the West, the old adage remains true: “water is worth fighting for.” I believe our national parks are also worth fighting for. They are cherished places collectively known as “America’s best idea.” To protect both water and National Parks and in response to increasing threats to the California desert’s national parks, national monuments and groundwater supplies, I recently introduced Assembly Bill 1000 — the California Desert Protection Act.

AB 1000 strengthens environmental protections in the ecologically fragile Mojave Desert and ensures that future water transfers from groundwater basins underlying desert lands do not adversely affect the region’s natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or habitat. This includes protection of lands that belong to all of us: Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave Trails National Monument.

The legislation follows a series of direct challenges from the Trump administration toward existing federal protections to the California desert. Obama-era policies requiring federal environmental review of the Cadiz Inc. water mining project have been recently rescinded. Proposed by Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc., the project would drain 50,000 acre-feet (16 billion gallons) of water every year for 50 years from the California desert, and sell that water to Southern California markets. A Cadiz Inc. lobbyist now holds a top position within the current administration, which is now considering shrinking or abolishing the Mojave Trails National Monument that surrounds the project.

Nearly two decades ago, federal review found the Cadiz project to pose significant environmental risks to the California desert and the Metropolitan Water District voted to reject it. At the heart of the Cadiz controversy is disagreement over how much water from rain and snow recharges this fragile desert aquifer in an average year. Cadiz Inc.’s hired researchers claim the annual recharge of the desert aquifer is 32,000 acre-feet/year, but the federal United States Geological Survey and National Park Service — two of our nation’s most respected scientific institutions — rejected this, concluding that only around 5,000 acre-feet recharges the aquifer each year. Basing decisions using the inflated Cadiz-sponsored figures would be a death sentence to life such as bighorn sheep and bobcat that are sustained by springs.

When the project was reintroduced, Cadiz Inc. sought to evade the required federal review and instead complete only a state review conducted by an Orange County water district that is also the project’s biggest customer. This scenario would allow Cadiz Inc. to use its paid-for research and ignore the independent federal research.

Aside from being bad environmental policy, the Cadiz project is also bad water planning, business and economics. As Los Angeles works to increase local water supplies through stormwater and wastewater projects that produce local jobs, Cadiz water would be pumped for hundreds of miles, increasing the water’s costs and exposure to risks such as natural disasters. California has more than $13 billion in deferred water infrastructure maintenance that we actually need to do and which would create thousands of jobs. And yet Cadiz suggests we instead build a monolithic, centralized water project of the past.

The proposal follows an outdated vision that rural economies must suffer in our pursuit of water resources. Lithium and salt mining businesses are threatened by the proposed water pumping, as is the robust tourism economy associated with our national parks. In 2016 alone, visitors to Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve — both of which would be harmed by the Cadiz proposal — spent more than $155 million in communities surrounding the national parks, supporting more than 2,100 local, permanent jobs. The temporary jobs produced over two years by Cadiz are simply not worth the risk to other economies and better water supply options for Los Angeles and California.

While Cadiz may be Los Angeles-based, it does not reflect the city’s support for the California desert that was recently expressed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), one of the nation’s largest water districts. In a recent meeting, LADWP officials gave the project a vote of no confidence, recommending the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti support AB 1000 and oppose the Cadiz Inc. water mining proposal. LADWP Board Chairman Mel Levine referenced correspondence from Sen. Dianne Feinstein along with overwhelming opposition to Cadiz and support of AB1000, through letters received and public testimony delivered by LADWP ratepayers and environmental leaders.

As a member of the California State Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and a Californian who lived through one of the most severe droughts in our state’s history, I have a professional and personal commitment to ensuring smart and sustainable water management. Protecting fragile Mojave Desert water resources and the life and robust tourism economy that depends on them is common sense.

Since Gov. Jerry Brown announced the end of California’s drought earlier this year, I have remained committed to the long-term conservation of California’s water resources. AB 1000 is the latest in a series of water conservation bills that I have introduced, and I urge my fellow Assembly members and state Senate leaders to join me in supporting this measure.

LAURA FRIEDMAN (D-Glendale) represents La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, Glendale, Burbank and neighboring communities in the the 43rd Assembly District.

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