Government Allows California Water Project to Move Forward

Published November 10, 2017

The Trump administration has cleared the way for a controversial project intended to draw water from beneath California’s Mojave Desert and sell it to water providers in Southern California.

On October 13, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued an opinion Cadiz Inc.’s plan to build a 43-mile pipeline along a railroad right of way did not require the agency’s approval. BLM’s decision came after the Interior Department reversed an opinion it held on the matter when Barack Obama was president. In 2015, the Interior Department said the 1875 law governing the railroad easement required it be used for railroad purposes. Any other proposed use would require federal approval.

In a statement, acting BLM Director Michael Nedd says the Arizona and California Railroad, which owns the easement, may lease part of it for the pipeline.

“BLM determines that the ability to authorize the proposed uses of the easements obtained under the 1875 Act falls within the decision rights of the railroad … authorization by the BLM is unnecessary,” wrote Nedd.

BLM’s decision came after the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office withdrew the previous Obama-era opinion on September 1. In a new opinion, Interior’s solicitor concluded an 1875 law governing railroad companies’ rights within their rights of way, “The rights-of-way granted to railroad companies under the 1875 Act allow railroad companies to lease portions of their easements to third parties without permit or grant from the Bureau of Land Management.”

Water For Hundreds Of Thousands

Owning approximately 34,000 acres along Route 66 in Southern California, Cadiz is one of the largest landowners in the area.

For years, Cadiz has hoped to pump groundwater and sell it to Southern California water providers, having signed a 99-year lease with the railroad company to build the pipeline on its rail easement in 2008.

Cadiz plans to provide enough water to satisfy the demands of 400,000 people.

BLM’s decision removes the final federal hurdle to Cadiz’s planned pipeline, although state regulators may erect other hurdles. In a letter sent by the State Lands Commission (SLC) to Cadiz on October 12, SLC claims part of the proposed pipeline route crosses state-owned lands thus requiring state approval. SLC’s assertion is not surprising since Gov. Jerry Brown had previously attempted to stop the pipeline. Brown lobbied the California legislature to pass a law barring the project. The legislature rejected Brown’s bill in 2017.

Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) praised BLM’s reversal saying Southern Californians need the water this project will deliver.

“This project will bring much-needed water to Southern California while supporting economic activity and jobs in the region,” said Walters “Importantly, this project will also protect California’s desert environment.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.