Federal Court Throws Out Pipeline Permit for Cadiz Water Project
Federal judge vacates key permit for controversial pipeline rushed through in final days of the previous administration
Sep 14, 2022
Twentynine Palms, CA – A federal court today ruled to scrap an important pipeline permit for the controversial Cadiz water mining project, siding with the Biden administration and tribal communities. The project threatened to drain the Mojave Desert of 16 billion gallons of water annually, an unsustainable outflow the plaintiffs asserted would have disastrous impact on Tribal Nations, local communities and nearby protected lands like Mojave Trails National Monument and Mojave National Preserve.
The court’s ruling vacates the pipeline rights-of-way issued to Cadiz and grants the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) motion for voluntary remand following a lawsuit filed by the Native American Land Conservancy and the National Parks Conservation Association. The pipeline rights-of-way were issued to Cadiz by the BLM in the last days of the Trump administration.
The court agreed with the Biden administration that the prior administration fast-tracked approvals of the pipeline permit without required tribal consultation or review of environmental impacts on national parks, national monuments, and sacred sites. In its filing with the court, the Biden administration noted that the “legal errors were serious.”
In its ruling, the Court stated:
“This is not a scenario in which an agency – for example – compiled a full NEPA record, came to a well-supported opinion, and then reversed its opinion mere months later. Here, there is no Environmental Assessment (“EA”), Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”), or accompanying record of decision, for example – only what appears to be a rushed, cursory decision to grant the rights-of-way under categorical exclusions. Cadiz’s argument that the legal errors are illusory and thus frivolous is unavailing.”
“In light of the fact that no complete reviews under the relevant statutes were undertaken for Cadiz’s application, the Court would conclude that vacatur is particularly proper here because the grant of the rights-of-way have not benefited from a full agency review and decision-making process. The BLM’s action below was a decision not to engage in review. None of Cadiz’s arguments persuade the Court that vacatur is improper here.”
“This Court ruling blocks the Cadiz project from harming the sacred ancestral lands and water sources that tribal peoples in the California desert region depend greatly on for their spiritual and cultural practices and way of life,” said Michael J. Madrigal, President of the Native American Land Conservancy.
“We thank the Biden administration for its support and recognizing that our peoples have been here since the beginning of time and that we continue to visit, gather, and utilize these special areas in the desert for our cultural survival.”
In November 2020, the National Congress of American Indians adopted a resolution opposing the Cadiz project, joining numerous California desert tribes in this fight for indigenous rights and cultural survival.
“Cadiz has failed to materialize for decades because it would be a major environmental justice disaster, inflicting harm on Tribal nations and California communities that are already feeling the impacts of drought and climate change,” said Chris Clarke, Ruth Hammett Associate Director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s California Desert Program. “We thank the Biden administration for protecting our scarce desert water and beloved national parks from this irresponsible water mining scheme.”
When the Trump administration acted to ensure the pipeline permit would be approved before the change in presidential administrations, it blocked legally required review by scientists at the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. Federal scientists have previously found that the Cadiz project would extract up to 25 times more groundwater than is naturally recharged. This unsustainable pumping would severely damage resources throughout the Mojave Desert, including habitat for rare desert wildlife such as tortoises and bighorn sheep.
Native American Land Conservancy and National Parks Conservation Association are represented in this lawsuit by the U.C. Irvine Environmental Law Clinic. The case name is The Native American Land Conservancy, et al. v. Debra Haaland, et al. The same decision was filed in the related case Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, et al.
About the Native American Land Conservancy: The Native American Land Conservancy (NALC) is a nonprofit, intertribal organization founded in 1998 with a mission to acquire, preserve, and protect sacred lands. It does this through land acquisition, education, cultural programming, and the survey and monitoring of Tribal historic properties. The NALC provides culturally appropriate protective management and stewardship of natural and cultural areas, engaging a wide range of tribal communities.