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Legislation introduced to protect California desert water resources

California State Senator Richard Roth has introduced Senate Bill 307 to enhance protections for California's deserts.
California State Senator Richard Roth has introduced Senate Bill 307 to enhance protections for California's deserts.

California State Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside) has introduced Senate Bill 307, after Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) sabotaged the nearly identical SB 120 last year, by preventing a vote on the well supported legislation. Co-authored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), SB 307 enhances protections to California’s deserts by ensuring any future water transfers – from groundwater basins underlying desert lands – do not adversely affect the desert’s natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or sensitive habitats.

According to Roth, the issue at hand is the role the state will play in preserving the fragile ecosystem in the Mojave Desert. Proposals to extract water from aquifers historically receive the highest level of scrutiny. A long-debated proposal continues to generate concern due to a discrepancy in how much water can be sustainably pumped from an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert.

“As conversations continue, the indisputable point remains: the scientific review must be completed and the science reconciled,” Roth said. “We can and should do it quickly, but it must be done.”

“As the Chair of the Assembly Natural Resources 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,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale). “Protecting fragile Mojave Desert water resources and the life and economy that depends on them is common sense.”

“Conservation, preservation are cornerstones to the great history of our state. We have enacted legislation to protect Lake Tahoe, the coastline, the desert,” continued Senator Roth. “If we get this wrong we run the risk of destroying a precious national monument and fragile ecosystem. We must proceed with the utmost caution.”

SB 307 was crafted in response to the obvious need for groundwater safeguards for California’s Mojave Desert, which sustains legally-protected wildlife and millions of acres of national parks and public lands. The Trump administration has threatened such resources through the removal of long-standing regulations applying to the Cadiz Inc. groundwater mining proposal, considered the greatest, most urgent threat to any of California’s national parks and monuments.

Cadiz Inc. seeks to pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater each year for 50 years from an aquifer beneath Mojave Trails National Monument, Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park. While federal scientists have found Cadiz would overdraft the aquifer by up to 25 times the safe yield, the Trump administration has eliminated required federal review and placed the project in its top “Emergency and National Security” projects list. Responding to the Federal government’s abdication of responsibility, the legislation would authorize the state government to ensure future water transfers – from groundwater basins underlying desert lands – do not adversely affect the desert’s natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or sensitive habitats.

“Senator Roth is answering the calls of communities, water agencies, tribes and conservation organizations by defending California desert water,” said David Lamfrom, California Desert Director for National Parks Conservation Association. “Generations of people who live in the desert and love the desert have fought this harmful proposal, which endangers one of our country’s most unique, precious and important places. With acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s long-time connections to the Cadiz proposal and the Trump administration’s actions to eliminate safeguards, the time for California to take action is now.”

Recent science has called much of the supporting information for the project, provided by Cadiz Inc., into question. Studies found major springs were connected to the aquifer, leaving them vulnerable to any draw down of its water. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to Cadiz Inc. noting the project's research is flawed and the project threatens protected wildlife, including the desert bighorn sheep.

Other organizations quickly joined the National Parks Conservation Association in supporting SB 307.

“Water is life, and in no place is that more clear or important than the desert,” said Michael Madrigal, Native American Land Conservancy President and member of the Cahuilla Band of Indians. That is why the Native American Land Conservancy continues to lead efforts to resist threats to our finite resources, especially our sacred desert springs. We must defend the desert lands and waters for our heritage and for our future generations.”

“We applaud Senator Roth for introducing legislation that would close a loophole created by the Trump Administration when it decided to exempt the Cadiz project from federal environmental review,” said Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This bill will ensure that this project will receive the scientific review necessary to ensure that this project does not drain fragile desert groundwater and springs thus impacting iconic wildlife like the desert bighorn sheep.”

“The California League of Conservation Voters applauds Senator Roth for taking a stand against the Trump Administration’s fast-tracking of the Cadiz project, which would cause real harm to our natural resources and to California’s largest National Monument, Mojave Trails,” said Mary Creasman, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters. “Cadiz has been widely opposed for decades by tribes, communities, businesses, and organizations in the California desert. This project, which jeopardizes California’s water quality, is one of the clearest examples of how the Trump Administration is changing the rules to allow dangerous projects to move forward without adequate review.”

“I strongly support SB 307 and hope the California legislature will move quickly to pass this crucial legislation," said Senator Dianne Feinstein. "The Trump administration has rolled back key protections at the federal level, so we need the state legislature to step up and pass this critically important legislation to stop projects like Cadiz."

“Cadiz wants to drain up to 50,000 acre feet of water every year from a major desert aquifer, disregarding independent scientific analysis that shows the project just isn’t workable" Feinstein explained. "The U.S. Geological Survey has repeatedly stated the natural recharge rate for the aquifer is only between 2,000 and 10,000 acre feet per year. The National Park Service has confirmed that analysis.

“Water is the lifeblood of the California desert," Feinstein added. "It supports the unique flora and fauna, like the rare desert tortoise that make our desert special. Without this legislation, all of that could be lost.

“I want to thank Senator Roth and Assemblywoman Friedman for their continued efforts to protect our desert," Feinstein concluded. "Without it, our iconic desert would be left vulnerable to Cadiz and other environmentally disastrous projects.”

Former Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, former Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Chair Mel Levine are among the many public officials who have opposed the Cadiz proposal or expressed the need for California state government review.

Read the text of Senate Bill 307 HERE.

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