15 Jul Assemblymember Friedman’s bill to derail Cadiz Water Project Passes State Senate Committee on Natural Resources
“Gut and amend” AB 1000 an after-the-fact attempt to saddle project with additional reviews
Earlier this week, a new “gut and amend” bill, Assembly Bill 1000, passed the California Legislature’s Senate Committee on Natural Resources by a 7-2 vote. Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s (D-43rd District-Burbank) Assembly Bill 1000 takes aim at the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project in the eastern Mojave Desert;). After nearly a decade of planning, scientific analysis, environmental reviews and 12 separate cases heard by independent justices in California’s courts, the bill seems intent on requiring additional regulatory steps for the Project as it nears construction.
Cadiz Inc., the largest private land owner in the Mojave Desert, in a statement issued Wednesday Indicated that, “AB 1000 is a deeply flawed, unconstitutional bill that targets a single project, usurps local control and undercuts the revered California Environmental Quality Act to review environmental impacts. Setting a terrible precedent, AB 1000 would overrule the judgment of local agencies even where California’s Courts have already reviewed and approved their decisions.”
AB 1000 was originally a bill on water meters but its language was replaced entirely on the eve of the July 4th holiday with new language that would require Cadiz and the Metropolitan Water District to seek new approvals the State Lands Commission (SLC) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to move water in the Colorado River Aqueduct.
The amended AB 1000 was quickly supported by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Cadiz Project opponent, as well as national environmental organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Mojave Desert Land Trust. However, following AB 1000’s holiday introduction and prior to the Senate Committee hearing on July 11th, more than 40 local, state and national organizations came out in opposition to the bill, including:
- State Building Trades & Construction Council of California
- Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA)
- Southern California Water Committee
- Three Valleys Municipal Water District
- Twentynine Palms Water District
- Santa Margarita Water District
- Southern California Partnership for Jobs
- Southern California Association of Governments
- American Groundwater Trust
- California Chamber of Commerce
- Inland Empire Economic Partnership
- BIZFED – Los Angeles County Business Federation
- Orange County Business Council
- Imperial County Farm Bureau
- Engineering Contractors Association
- San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership
- California Business Properties Association
- International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 12
- Building Industry Association of Southern California
Prior to Tuesday’s vote Cadiz had strenuously voiced their opposition to AB 1000 in a letter to the members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Water noting that the Cadiz Water Project had “been comprehensively reviewed and independently approved by two public agencies and validated by 12 trial and appellate court opinions.” The project is intended to actively manage and beneficially use water from the vast and underutilized aquifer system underlying Cadiz’s 34,000-acre private property in California’s eastern Mojave Desert.
“We are disappointed that the California Legislature’s Senate Committee on Natural Resources voted yesterday (Wednesday) on a party line 7-2 vote to pass out of committee Assembly Bill (AB) 1000, a bill just introduced by Assembly member Laura Friedman over the Independence Day holiday,” said Cadiz’s statement. “Assembly member Friedman utilized the “gut and amend” process to quietly change a pre-existing bill and load it with new language that seeks to derail reliable water supplies in Southern California without consultation with those who may be impacted by such legislation.”
For her part, Assemblymember Friedman contends that, “California must protect its land and water in the face of dangerous threats such as the Cadiz water mining project, which would drain 16 billion gallons of water each year from the Mojave Desert. There is no time to waste in saving this picture-postcard landscape.”
In a recent Public News Service article, National Parks Conservation Association’s David Lanfrom echoed this sentiment in support of AB 1000, stating “It’s vital that the state of California step up and make sure that the science is actually good and that we understand exactly what those impacts will be, because there’s a lot at stake here.”
However, in 2014, the Orange County Superior Court denied all similar brought by conservation groups including National Parks Conservation Association, summarizing in one opinion that the, “EIR properly concluded that the Project will not substantially deplete the aquifer or interfere with groundwater recharge” and that “the mitigation measures, including those approved in an abundance of caution even where the record reflected no significant impacts, satisfy CEQA and are affective.” IN 2016, a three judge panel of the Califronia Court of Appeal unanimously upheld this finding and the Project’s CEQA approvals.
AB 1000 seeks to reopen the review of the Cadiz Water Project which may create constitutional problems for State regulators, and conflicts with the Project’s especially those that have completed CEQA review. The bill may also establish a precedent of reexamination for any CEQA approved project in California.
In a letter to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, the Building Industry Association of Southern California relayed this concern: “AB 1000 would create an end-run around the project’s lawful CEQA process and the multiple rulings of California’s courts. In so doing, it would not only carve out this one project for singular, unjustified treatment, but also create a precedent for similar regulatory abuse by opponents of other CEQA-approved projects in the state, including housing projects, which would exacerbate the state’s already-severe housing supply crisis.”
In its statement, Cadiz succinctly summed up the concern expressed by the various stakeholders who wrote the Committee and testified at the hearing, “If our water project can be targeted in this manner, then any water project – and indeed, any project approved under CEQA – is in jeopardy of similar treatment in any part of California.”