The latest twist in the story of the state of California’s attempts to stop the Cadiz Water Project’s effort to provide much needed water for southern California’s thirsty communities took a new turn when a little known state agency demanded that the project owners acquire a lease to use a 200-foot wide strip of state land for its proposed pipeline.

The State Lands Commission, overseen by two Democratic officeholders and an official from Governor Brown’s administration sent a letter to Cadiz offices stating the demand for the lease. Whether to issue a lease would be up to the three members of the lands commission, who include Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, State Controller Betty Yee and Governor Jerry Brown’s Director of Finance, Michael Cohen.

Newsom and Brown are acting at the instigation of U.S. Senator Barbara Feinstein, a perennial foe of the Cadiz Project.

“The parcel is a tiny piece of the millions of acres that Congress in 1853 granted to California for the benefit of public education,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Commission spokeswoman Sheri Pemberton said the state never sold the 200-foot-wide strip, because, in 1910, California granted a railroad right of way over it. Now the commission says Cadiz needs a state lease to use that portion of the right of way for the water pipeline.”

The state action comes in the wake of moves by President Trump’s administration to clear a major obstacle from Cadiz’s path that was erected by the Obama administration. Both the state and federal efforts revolve around the company’s plans to construct a 43-mile water pipeline in an existing railroad right-of-way that crosses mostly federal land.

In 2015, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management said Cadiz couldn’t use the right-of-way because the proposed water infrastructure didn’t “further a railroad purpose,” despite the fact that no railroad has used it in the last 164 years.

On September 1 of this year, the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor withdrew the 2011 opinion that underpinned Obama administration BLM’s denial. Now Cadiz is waiting for regional BLM officials to rescind the 2015 decision.

But if BLM does that, environmental groups are likely to sue and the Lands Commission could still stand in the way.

Cadiz spokeswoman Courtney Degener says the company is on firm ground going forward.

“We don’t see anything in the state letter that impacts our ability to complete the project,” she said in an email. “The statute of limitations to challenge (the 2012 approval) is long past.”

By Dave Sorem, P.E. ECA Government Affairs Chairman
Email: [email protected]