A water project that should have been laughed out of the boardroom two decades ago still threatens the California Desert. Unfortunately, the proposed Cadiz water project is no laughing matter for Native Americans, including the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations (TASIN), which I represent. TASIN is made up of nine of the largest federally recognized tribal governments in southern California and has formally opposed the Cadiz project.
The Cadiz water project would pump 16 billion gallons of ancient groundwater from the middle of the Mojave Desert each year, for sale to southern California suburbs. Though the proposal seems preposterous on the face of it – take water from one of the driest places on Earth so that Californians can continue to water lawns — Cadiz claims that most of the water they would take from the aquifer would be replenished each year by rain and snow. Federal agency scientists have repeatedly challenged those claims, stating that Cadiz’s aquifer recharge estimates are several times too high. Those concerns helped kill a previous version of the project in 2002.
In 2015, the BLM dealt what should have been a deathblow to the project when it ruled that Cadiz’s pipeline connecting its wells to the Metropolitan Water District’s aqueduct must undergo federal environmental review before construction can begin. That would have brought those federal scientists to the table, and subjected the Cadiz project to objective scientific assessment.
But the BLM reversed its decision after the 2016 elections, and so Cadiz has still managed to avoid scrutiny by those scientists, who still have hard questions about the company’s scientific claims. If those scientists are correct, the Cadiz project could cause irreparable damage to many of the scattered springs and seeps that serve as oases throughout the dry Mojave Desert. By the time the springs begin to dry up, it would be too late to do anything to save them.
Many, if not all, of those springs are of critical importance to desert Native peoples, who have used and tended them sustainably since time immemorial. Losing them would be a blow to our Native cultures. Cadiz’sresponse to such concerns has been simply to deny the springs are connected to the aquifer. Even after a peer-reviewed study published in April provided hard evidence that the largest spring in the area, Bonanza Spring, is fed directly by that regional aquifer, Cadiz has doubled down on its science denialism.
TASIN’s member tribes employ more than 15,000 people throughout southern California, and our tribal businesses contribute more than $750 million in direct wages to the California economy. Southern California’s Native peoples well understand the need for good-paying jobs. We wholeheartedly support sensible economic growth that takes people’s real needs into account.
But the temporary jobs Cadiz might provide come at too high a cost. Native peoples have special and deep-rooted traditional relationships with the sparse sources of water that have sustained us since time immemorial. These springs can be as crucial to our culture as Jerusalem or Mecca are for many of our fellow Americans. Native peoples have seen too many of our sacred and cultural sites destroyed in the name of short-term gain. We can hardly afford to lose more of our culture in the service of private profit for a few.
You don’t have to have a profound relationship with desert springs to know that pumping water from the Mojave Desert is wrong. You just have to have common sense. That’s why TASIN is speaking out in opposition to the ill-advised Cadiz project, which puts our cultural sites, and our desert national parks and monuments, in serious danger. We call on Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President Toni Atkins, and other elected officials to put a stop to this project, once and for all.
By Brian McDonald – Brian McDonald is a member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and Vice Chair for the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations. He lives in La Quinta.