Friday, January 21, 2022

Biden administration revises Trump-approved Cadiz plumbing permit

Federal authorities overturned the Trump administration’s decision to open Cadiz Inc. the ability to run tap water across public lands in the California desert.

The request, filed in federal court on Friday, which is still pending, could hit the company’s decades-long efforts to pump groundwater out of its territory in the desert 200 miles east of Los Angeles and sell it to urban cities in Southern California. … The project is vehemently opposed by conservationists who say it will dry up the springs and outlets of the desert that indigenous tribes and rare animals rely on. Cadiz claims that his plans will not harm the springs in the area.

“The Biden administration has taken the right step to stop this dangerous water grabbing that will erode life-giving springs in the central Mojave Desert,” said Ilene Anderson, senior researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is really good for the desert because it will keep the project from progressing.”

The environmental group and others have filed several lawsuits challenging the project. The latest round, filed in March in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, argued that the U.S. Bureau of Land Administration accelerated the approval process for the pipeline branch last year without consulting tribes or considering potential impacts on natural and cultural resources, such as it is required by law. They argue that the move was an attempt to push through a decision in the final days of the Trump administration.

Federal government lawyers acknowledged the same in a court hearing on Friday in claims that also included the Wildlife Defenders, the Sierra Club, the Native American Lands Conservation Organization and the National Conservation Association.

“Due to the lack of analysis [BLM] does not know the source of the water that will be transported through the pipeline, and therefore could not analyze the potential impacts on the environment or the historical properties of the water intake at its source, ”they wrote. “Cadiz did not provide specific information about its plans, and the agency nevertheless proceeded to provide the right of way without knowing the specifics of Cadiz’s plans or assessing the potential consequences of Cadiz’s operations.”

Citing the seriousness of the legal errors, the lawyers asked the court to return the BLM decision to grant the right of recusal, claiming that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National History Preservation Act. The hearing of the petition is scheduled for March 2022.

Contact the officials of Cadiz Inc. for comment failed.

The Biden administration’s move has received praise from environmental groups and tribal representatives.

“We thank the Biden administration for recognizing that tribal peoples in the California desert region are highly dependent on their sacred ancestral lands and water sources for their spiritual and cultural practices and lifestyles,” said Michael J. Madrigal, president of the organization. Native American Land Conservancy. , the message says. “The Trump administration expelled tribes to help Cadiz, but today’s decision respects that our peoples have been here since time immemorial, and today we continue to visit, collect and use these special desert areas for our cultural survival.”

The ReBuild SoCal Partnership, a coalition of contractors advocating for infrastructure works, said it opposed the proposal, noting that it came a day after the State Water Project announced it would not ship any supplies other than critical. …

“What needs to happen for the federal government to understand how dire the situation is for the thousands of people without access to clean, safe drinking water?” John Switalski, chief executive of Rebuild SoCal, said in a statement.

According to Anderson, if the court upholds the request, the company could still return and file another application for the use of the pipeline right of way.

“But I think in the Biden administration they would have a more critical view of how to better carry out environmental assessments,” she said.

For over 20 years, Cadiz has been trying to implement a controversial water project on its land near the Mojave National Park.

In 2019, environmental groups won a separate lawsuit challenging other decisions by the Trump administration that would have allowed the company to use an existing railroad right of way across federal land to lay pipelines from a prospective well field to an aqueduct on the Colorado River.

Cadiz argued that he did not need to request BLM’s permission to use the right-of-way for the aqueduct because he was pursuing the railroad’s target. BLM initially disagreed, announcing in 2015 under the Obama administration that the company could not use the right-of-way and would need to obtain federal approval to run a 58-mile pipeline through adjacent federal lands. But after Trump took office, a BLM official canceled the legal guidelines that underpinned the agency’s 2015 ruling and subsequently gave Cadiz the green light to use the right of way.

Environmental groups challenged the agency’s change in court, winning a favorable ruling by US District Judge George Wu, who said BLM was unable to legally justify its refusal.

The project ran into another hurdle after Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in August 2019 requiring it to undergo scientific research and get approval from the State Land Commission.

Cadiz then decided to take a different route north that would extend to the California Aqueduct near Wheeler Ridge, buying an existing 220-mile oil and gas pipeline that could be converted for use for water. The company said the pipeline will improve access to water for populations without access to water resources.

Former Times staff writer Bettina Boxall contributed to this report.

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