Bill Would Protect California Desert Water Resources

Photo Credit: A bill in the California Legislature would provide more oversight for a potential water pumping project in the Mojave Desert. Photo Credit: Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management

Eric Tegethoff California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A bill introduced Wednesday in the California Legislature aims to protect water resources in the state’s deserts.

Assembly member Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, introduced Assembly Bill 1000, known as the California Desert Protection Act, to strengthen safeguards for desert groundwater so that water transfers don’t negatively impact natural or cultural resources.

David Lamfrom, the California deserts director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the bill came at the right time because the Mojave Desert is facing urgent threats.

“Those include the Cadiz project, which stands to pump at least 16 billion gallons of water a year and to ship it out of the California desert,” Lamfrom said. “And we’re also concerned about the impact that having, really, a loophole in water policy, what that could mean for the California desert moving forward.”

The Trump administration recently paved the way for the Cadiz Water Project to move forward without a federal environmental review. The project to extract and export water from Mojave Desert aquifers and sell the water to Southern Californians has raised serious concerns that it could deplete desert springs vital to wildlife there.

Frazier Haney, conservation director for the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said the Cadiz project faced an uphill battle during the Obama administration but has found a clearer path to approval under the new president.

He pointed to Donald Trump’s nomination of David Berhardt, a lobbyist for Cadiz, for the number two position in the Department of the Interior as one example of the president’s ties to the project.

“There are deep financial ties to people that Donald Trump has nominated to his Cabinet and the Cadiz water pumping project,” Haney said. “So, it’s troubling that an administration with financial ties to a project could be pushing a project along.”

Lamfrom said even by Cadiz’s calculations, its water extraction project isn’t sustainable. He said if the federal government won’t provide better oversight of this project, California should.

“It’s vital that the state of California step up and make sure that the science is actually good and that we understand exactly what those impacts will be,” he said, “because there’s a lot at stake here.”

The bill will be heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee next Tues., July 11