SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers rejected a bill Friday designed to stymie a private company’s plan to pump water from below the Mojave Desert to sell in Southern California.
It’s a choice that’s angering U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has called the project by Cadiz Inc. a “pet project” of the Trump administration. The federal government earlier this year reversed guidelines that would have stopped the company from using an existing right of way for a 43-mile pipeline to transfer the water.
“Blocking Cadiz is one concrete way to stop the Trump administration from hurting California. I hope our state leaders reconsider this bill and move it forward,” Feinstein, a Democrat, said in a statement.
A Senate committee chose to hold the bill, “dubbed the “California Desert Protection Act,” meaning it won’t be voted on this year. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown had also pushed for its passage.
Cadiz Inc. wants to build a pipeline along an existing federal railroad right of way to bring water from its wells below the desert into the Colorado River Aqueduct. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released guidelines during the Obama administration to block the company from using that right of way. The Trump administration reversed course in March, and the project is on its priority infrastructure list.
Environmental critics say it could dry up desert springs that help preserve the deserts plants and wildlife, but they’ve lost several battles in court to stop the project.
The bill, AB 1000, would’ve required two additional state agencies to determine whether certain water projects will harm natural and cultural resources.
Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, who chairs the committee that halted the bill, said it would set a bad precedent for lawmakers to change the laws to halt one project. He noted the project has already gone through extensive and strict environmental reviews.
“That process should be allowed to play out,” he said in a statement.
The project still needs approval from the Metropolitan Water District to use the Colorado River Aqueduct.
Cadiz cheered the committee’s decision, saying the bill was clearly designed to block its project.
The bill would have undercut environmental regulations, usurped local control and “threatened jobs, water and economic growth for Southern California,” the company said in a statement.