U.S. Senate Race Should Focus on Cadiz Water Project

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

Parched riverbeds. Browning grass. Higher prices. Water bonds

Everybody knows about the drought that has plagued Southern California in recent years. Which is why the race for U.S. Senate from California needs to focus on an important project that could bring water to us while helping the environment. Specifically, candidates Loretta Sanchez and Kamala Harris need to debate why Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been holding up the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project out in the desert.

The Santa Margarita Water District describes how Cadiz “will provide a new Southern California water supply by actively managing a groundwater basin that is part of a 1,300-square-mile watershed in eastern San Bernardino County.

“Water that would otherwise evaporate will be collected and conserved for beneficial use. The project will then convey the conserved water to SMWD and to other Southern California water agencies to enhance their water supply reliability.”

Environmentalists have objected because they don’t like any developments, of any kind, even though the water sent to thirsty Southern Californians otherwise would have evaporated. But in May, Cadiz won a crucial court battle. As the San Bernardino Sun reported, “Cadiz Inc. won a decisive courtroom victory Tuesday for its plans to transfer ancient groundwater in a remote part of San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert to parts of Orange County and other locations.

“California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana upheld six lower court decisions dealing with various governmental approvals and environmental reviews of the controversial water project.”

It quoted Cadiz CEO Scott Slater, “The six Court of Appeal opinions issued today continue an uninterrupted validation of the Cadiz Water Project and its mission to conserve and deliver enough water for 400,000 people without harm to the environment. The mountains of evidence, peer review, public agency and judicial scrutiny have all determined that the project is technically and legally sound.”

Back when I was with the Orange County Register earlier this year, we met with Slater and other Cadiz officials. I was impressed with their concern both for the environment and to bring water to the people of California.

Unfortunately, Sen. Feinstein remains as an obstacle. After the court decision, she replied that it “changes nothing.” To which Wes May, executive director, Engineering Contractors’ Association, replied in the Desert Sun, “[I]t must be clearly stated, the Cadiz Water Project has not ‘bypassed’ federal environmental review. There is no federal permitting nexus. Co-locating infrastructure in a railroad right of way is commonplace in the West and good public policy, but by no means an avoidance of review…. The CEQA review identified not one ‘devastating’ or ‘grave’ impact to the preserve or any other desert resource. Indeed, the project considered the concerns Sen. Feinstein raised years ago and it was carefully designed to purposely avoid any impacts.”

And as a Sept. 21 editorial in the Register put it, opponents say “the Santa Margarita Water District should not have approved Cadiz’s EIR in July, not the least, they assert, because the Cadiz Valley Water Project imperils the threatened desert tortoise and big horn sheep, as well as the Mojave National Preserve.

“The environmental groups contend that, because Cadiz proposes to pump water from an aquifer located in San Bernardino County, a San Bernardino County agency should have been the lead agency in Cadiz’s environmental review – which is required by the California Environmental Quality Act – rather than Orange County-based SMWD….

“So, unless a court takes the extraordinary step of retroactively declaring SMWD unqualified to serve as lead agency for Cadiz’s EIR, and vacates the report that SMWD approved, Cadiz should be allowed to move forward with its water project.”

Loretta Sanchez supports the project. So far, Kamala Harris has made no statement on it. However, when the Register Editorial Board interviewed her earlier this year, I asked how familiar she, as a Bay Area politician, was with Southern California concerns. She emphasized that she recently married a Southern Californian and spent a great deal of time here. Well, it’s a start.

Curiously, the Bee reported earlier this year that groom Douglas Emhoff recently sold personal stocks (not owned by Harris) that “included companies with which Harris and her environmentalist and labor union allies have had an adversarial relationship.” What does that mean? Who knows? But it’s interesting that Mr. Harris, like Mr. Feinstein (Richard C. Bloom) and Mr. (Stewart) Boxer, is incredibly wealthy.

Anyway, the Cadiz project, and Sen. Feinstein’s obstructionism, ought to be a topic at the one (or two) Harris-Sanchez debates. As with Hillary, on hand should be an ample supply of water.

Longtime California columnist John Seiler now edits the Seiler Report on Orange County news and politics.

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