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Despite a wet winter and thick snowpack, California still faces increasing demands for water. New sources are always welcome and the Cadiz project seeks to pump groundwater from private holdings in the Mojave Desert to supply homes in arid southern California. San Bernardino County approved the project but the loudest voice against it is California’s senior senator Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco.
“California’s public lands and resources are under siege by a powerful corporation and its allies in Washington,” Feinstein charged in a recent opinion column, describing Cadiz as “a particularly destructive project” that threatens “tortoises and bighorn sheep to breathtaking wildflower blooms that blanket the region.” The project “places a big emphasis on corporate profit at the expense of the broader public,” and it’s a matter of “Republican overreach,” backed of course by the Trump administration, and they seek to “rob us of our public lands.” Cadiz board member Winston Hickox offered a different view.
As California Environmental Protection Agency secretary from 1999-2003, Hickox worked with Feinstein on water issues, and from 1975-1983 he served as governor Jerry Brown’s special assistant for environmental affairs. According to Hickox, the Cadiz project “will conserve enough water for 400,000 Californians each year for 50 years without causing a single adverse environmental impact.” As he notes, it was approved in accord with California’s Environmental Quality Act and prevailed in multiple court challenges. Hickox shot down Feinstein’s use of the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service and charged that she used her stature “to misrepresent facts.” Animals and flowers are not at risk, and the Cadiz project, Hickox concludes, “will add a new water supply in a safe and sustainable manner.” By opposing it on a partisan basis, and misrepresenting the facts, Feinstein abuses the public she claims to protect.
Meanwhile, as Cadiz moves ahead, California should consider the example of Australia, a nation with an arid climate and limited water supplies. As Australia’s National Water Commission explained in Water Markets: A Short History, water markets and trading were “the primary means” to achieve the best use of existing resources.