California Protects its Deserts from Greedy Water Grabs

A water mining company’s plan to suck 16 billion gallons of groundwater every year for the next 50 years has been placed on hold by state leaders.  The project, on Trump’s list of priority infrastructure projects, will now undergo thorough scientific review to guarantee that any proposed pumping from the California desert is environmentally sustainable.

And it’s desperately needed because depleting the aquifer in this manner would cause important desert springs to dry up, which would threaten wildlife such as the bighorn sheep, sites that Native American tribes consider sacred, and recreational activities including wildlife viewing and hunting. Iconic parks like Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve would also suffer harm, which has prompted even the National Park Service itself to speak out with its concerns.

The Cadiz project as proposed is an unmitigated disaster for the desert as water would be pumped out up to 25 times faster than it is replenished. Luckily Senators Richard Roth and Anthony Portantino passed  Senate Bill 307, which would provide a comprehensive state review process for groundwater extraction projects in the California desert like the Cadiz project and Governor Newsom signed it yesterday. 

The Mojave Desert is also one of the driest places in North America, so every drop of water counts for the fragile ecosystems that have adapted over millennia to the harsh desert conditions. It is also home to brilliant spring wildflowers, windswept Joshua tree landscapes, an endless star-filled night sky, and some of the most magnificent and popular national parks and monuments in the country.

Now the state will have the authority and time to conduct its own environmental analysis, despite the fact that the Trump administration gave the green light to the Cadiz project without ensuring the necessary environmental reviews were completed.

California’s climate is changing, our recent epic drought gave us insight into what our future likely holds, and we’ll have to adapt with creative strategies to stretch the supplies that nature will provide for us. But mining groundwater in one of the driest places in North America is the wrong approach. California is already pursuing more sustainable water supply options, many of which have co-benefits including saving energy and reducing pollution in our rivers and oceans. Last year, Governor Brown signed legislation that will require our urban communities to use water more efficiently and Los Angeles County approved Measure W which will fund projects that capture stormwater. And many water suppliers throughout Southern California are continuing to invest in water recycling projects to ensure robust, locally reliable water supplies for years to come.

Thank you to all of our desert champions for defending our natural and cultural heritage and pushing back against this ill-advised project.  And thank you to all the water warriors fighting for safe, sufficient, locally reliable and sustainable water supplies for all Californians.