Success Story – Federal Court Blocks Cadiz Water Project in the California Desert

By Mark Butler

A controversial plan to extract billions of gallons of groundwater from beneath the Mojave Desert in California has been blocked by a federal judge, who ruled the review of the project by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Trump administration “was a decision not to engage in review.” For years, the Cadiz Water Project has petitioned the BLM for approvals and grants of rights-of-way necessary to withdraw as much as 16 billion gallons of water per year and pump it to distant Southern California cities.

According to the September 14 ruling, the BLM during the closing days of the Trump administration approved the project without conducting the necessary environmental reviews. Also, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu told Cadiz that the BLM under the Biden administration was not acting in bad faith or being frivolous in asking for the prior approval to be erased.

In the decision, the judge wrote, “[I]n 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.” Further he noted, “This is not a scenario in which an agency compiled a full National Environmental Policy Act record, came to a well-supported opinion, and then reversed its opinion mere months later. Here, there is no Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Statement, or accompanying record of decision only what appears to be a rushed, cursory decision to grant the rights-of-way under categorical exclusions.”

The lawsuit challenging project approvals was brought by the Native American Land Conservancy and the National Parks Conservation Association. These organizations were represented by the U.C. Irvine Environmental Law Clinic. A related case was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks has consistently supported the litigation brought by these organizations against Cadiz, and the effort to preserve and protect the interests of local tribal nations, nearby communities, Mojave Trails National Monument and Mojave National Preserve.