LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Bureau of Land Management today moved to scrap a Trump administration decision challenged by conservation groups last March that illegally granted a pipeline right-of-way to Cadiz Inc. without the required environmental review.
Today’s motion, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks to vacate the Bureau’s approval in the final days of the Trump administration for Cadiz to repurpose a mothballed oil-and-gas pipeline crossing the Mojave Trails National Monument and other protected public land in southeastern California as a water pipeline. The right-of-way would facilitate Cadiz’s groundwater-mining scheme to drain ancient aquifers under the Mojave Desert to feed sprawling new developments in Southern California.
“This deeply flawed decision was a parting gift from the Trump administration to Cadiz, and it’s wonderful that the Biden administration is righting this wrong,” said Ileene Anderson, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Cadiz’s massive water-privatization scheme would dry up the desert springs and seeps that some of California’s rarest plant and animals need to survive. We’ll do everything possible to protect this beautiful, delicate ecosystem.”
Cadiz’s project would pump water from a fragile aquifer under the Mojave Trails National Monument and near the Mojave National Preserve. Hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey have found the pipeline’s water use unsustainable. They also found that Cadiz’s privately funded study vastly overstates the aquifer’s recharge rate.
“Today’s motion will give the BLM the opportunity to do the right thing and prevent disruptive pumping and transport of groundwater — precious water that our fragile desert ecosystem and the species who call it home depend upon for their survival,” said Jeff Aardahl, a senior California representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “Withdrawing the earlier decision will give wildlife a fighting chance in the face of our ongoing, historic drought.”
The project threatens to dry up life-sustaining desert springs in the monument and the preserve, hurting vegetation and key habitat for iconic desert wildlife, including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and kit foxes.
“This project should never have been given a pass," said Joan Taylor, vice chair of Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Desert Committee. “At least now under Biden, the BLM acknowledges that pumping and exporting 16 billion gallons a year from a desert groundwater basin requires some environmental scrutiny.”
“The Trump administration’s decision to give Cadiz these rights-of-way without any environmental review is clearly illegal,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney at Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “The Bureau of Land Management has quite sensibly asked the court for permission to undo a flawed decision that would have devastating impacts on the Mojave Desert.”
Conservation groups have filed several lawsuits challenging the Cadiz water project, including challenging San Bernardino County for failing to provide environmental review and violating its own groundwater ordinance.
In 2019 the groups won a lawsuit challenging an earlier Interior Department approval of an existing railroad right-of-way for the pipeline. The judge ruled that the Trump administration had broken the law when it reversed two Obama administration decisions and had wrongly concluded the 43-mile pipeline did not require BLM permits or approvals.