Like many other southern Californians, I know we’re extremely lucky to have the Mojave Desert right here in our own backyard. Just a short drive can take you to see 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.
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.
Enter Cadiz, Inc., a water mining company that wants to pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater every year for 50 years from an aquifer that lies underneath the Mojave Trails National Monument. This outrageous scheme—which, by the way, is on Trump’s list of priority infrastructure projects—would be an unmitigated disaster for the desert as water would be pumped out up to 25 times faster than it is replenished.
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.
Fortunately, help is on the way from Sacramento. Senators Richard Roth and Anthony Portantino have authored and principally co-authored, respectively, a bill known as Senate Bill 307, which would provide a comprehensive state review process for groundwater extraction projects in the California desert like the Cadiz project. This bill would push the “pause” button on Cadiz, ensuring a thorough scientific review to guarantee that any proposed pumping from the California desert is environmentally sustainable.
So far, Cadiz has been able to circumvent even the most basic environmental review requirements for projects like this. For example, at the federal level, the Trump administration gave the green light to the Cadiz project without ensuring the necessary environmental reviews were completed. SB 307 responds to this backsliding by allowing the state to conduct its own environmental analysis.
The bill has passed the state Senate, thanks in part to the leadership of Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins and Senate Appropriations Chair Portantino, and is now moving through the Assembly. SB 307 is one of NRDC’s priority bills this legislative session to protect California from federal rollbacks. Thank you to all of our desert champions for defending our natural and cultural heritage and pushing back against this ill-advised project.