By Tommy Hough
The Cadiz Water Project is a decades-long scheme to drain an aquifer located beneath the Cadiz Valley in Mojave Trails National Monument, in order to pump water to coastal Southern California so Orange County residents can water their lawns.
Given the current subversion of our government, from the nihilism of the 115th Congress to the sheer ignorance and greed of the Trump Administration, it will come as no surprise that a former Cadiz Inc. lobbyist named David Bernhardt is now the second-in-command at the Interior Department behind Secretary Ryan Zinke, who himself has already carved out a record as the worst Interior chief in our nation's history in less than a year on the job.
Environmental organizations didn't take kindly to Bernhardt's appointment, in part because of his role at Interior a dozen years ago during the first term of George W. Bush. At that time, Bernhardt served as Interior's solicitor general under Secretary Gale Norton (another one of our worst Interior chiefs), and wrote a now-dismissed legal opinion that would've made it easier for the Interior Department to dismiss endangered species recommendations.
Along with loading federal agencies with idiot savant surrogates and destructive minions like Berhardt and Zinke, the Trump administration has done two specific things in order to facilitate the Cadiz Water Project.
One, in local conjunction with Congressman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, they've recommended reducing the boundaries of dozens of long-standing National Monuments around the nation in order to create the precedent to change the boundaries of Mojave Trails National Monument in San Bernardino County in order to access the Cadiz Valley and get at the aquifer.
Two, the Trump Administration has re-written federal right-of-way railroad laws in order to facilitate the project so "red tape" that would otherwise slow the approval of the water pipeline across federal land – in part because water infrastructure doesn't "further a railroad purpose" – would no longer apply.
Fortunately, San Bernardino County is located in California, and the State Lands Commission gets a say because the pipeline would cross state education lands set aside in 1857 by the federal government in the interest of the-then new state of California.
The commission has already determined a lease to cross state lands will require additional environmental review, and that will likely trigger a public process. That's good, and it demonstrates how poorly the Interior Department's original environmental review was, because they didn't even have the right land agency and land ownership indicated in their materials.
The shame is legislation could've been passed to prevent this. AB 1000 would've stopped the Cadiz project, but unfortunately, even though it was signed off by Governor Brown and nearly every Democrat in the legislature, it was held up by none other than Sen. Kevin DeLeón, who has otherwise been a solid environmental champion. DeLeón allowed the bill to die in committee in September, before announcing his intent to challenge fellow Democrat and desert conservation champion Dianne Feinstein for her incumbent U.S. Senate seat.
According to Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times, "Cadiz donated $5,000 to a DeLeón campaign fund," in June. "Cadiz and [Cadiz Inc. founder Keith] Brackpool, a long-time friend of former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have together contributed nearly $85,000 to Villaraigosa's gubernatorial campaign."
From the environmentalists I've spoken with, state lawmakers can take the case of AB 1000 back up in January, and the Trump Administration still has the State Lands Commission to deal with. How voters opt to handle Sen. DeLeón's role in killing AB 1000, however, is another matter.
Photos by Chris Clarke (top) and David Lamfrom (bottom).
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.