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BLM Decision Allows Cadiz Project to Move Forward

In a letter dated October 13, 2017, the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) notified Cadiz Inc., Santa Margarita Water District (“SMWD”), and the Arizona & California Railroad (“ARZC”) of BLM’s determination that the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project’s (“Cadiz Project”) proposed use of the railroad right-of-way falls within the scope of the rights granted to ARZC under the General Railroad Act of 1875.

The Cadiz Project proposes to capture water that is otherwise lost to evaporation and salinity in the Cadiz Valley and Fenner Valley aquifer system in the Mojave Desert to provide a reliable water supply for Southern California. The water would be moved from the project area to the Colorado River Aqueduct via pipeline located along the ARZC right-of-way.

In 2015, BLM determined that federal approval was required for the Cadiz Project to use the ARZC right-of-way. In March 2017, BLM rescinded the policies that led to the 2015 determination. A new determination, however, was not issued at that time. (For additional background and analysis of the 2015 determination, see “BLM Determines that Cadiz Project Needs Federal Approval,” JOW October 2015. For additional background on the March 2017 action rescinding the 2015 policy determination, see “BLM Rescinds Policies That Led to Determination Requiring Federal Review of Cadiz Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project,” JOW Spring 2017).

The October 2017 determination means that BLM does not need to review the project’s proposed use of the ARZC right-of-way, and no further federal permits or authorizations are required for construction of the pipeline.

The Cadiz Project has also faced a series of challenges at the state level, including litigation, legislation, and regulatory attempts to block the project.

After SMWD, the lead public agency for the project, completed an environmental review and finalized an Environmental Impact Report in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, lawsuits were filed challenging the environmental review and project approvals. In 2014, a California Superior Court judge rejected the challenges, and in 2016, an appellate court affirmed that decision.

In spring 2017, AB 1000, a bill that originally was written to allow for the development of performance standards for water meters, was gutted and amended. The amended version of the bill would have required the State Lands Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to do additional review of any project to convey water from desert lands. “Desert lands” was narrowly defined so that it would apply only to the Cadiz Project. The bill was held in committee at the close of the legislative session.

In October 2017, the State Lands Commission sent a letter to Cadiz claiming that the proposed pipeline path crosses a swath of state-owned land and that additional environmental review is required. In response, Cadiz notes that the letter references the Cadiz Groundwater Storage and Dry-Year Supply Program, which Cadiz pursued with the Metropolitan Water District from 1997-2002. The current project proposes a different pipeline route—along the ARZC right-of-way—and does not cross the land in question. (For more on the 2014 and 2016 court decisions rejecting the environmental litigation against the project, see “Superior Court Rejects Environmental Challenges to the Cadiz Project,” JOW May 2014 and “Appellate Court Affirms Cadiz Project’s Environmental Approvals,” JOW June 2016).

With the challenges to the project settled, Cadiz’s next steps include focusing on final engineering design, establishing contracts with the participating partners, and developing a conveyance agreement with the Metropolitan Water District for use of the Colorado River Aqueduct.


Written by Marta L. Weismann