April 14, 2018

Rare desert spring imperiled by company's plan to pump groundwater

Bonanza Spring nourishes an oasis of plants and trees in the Mojave Desert. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Ian James
The Desert Sun

Below the rocky, sunbaked ridges of the Clipper Mountains in the Mojave Desert, a ribbon of green teems with life.

Cottonwoods, willows and reeds sway with the breeze. Crickets chirp. Bees buzz around shallow pools.

Clear water gushes from a hole in the ground, forming Bonanza Spring, the largest spring in the southeastern Mojave Desert.

This rare oasis is at the center of the fight over a company’s plan to pump groundwater and sell it to California cities.

Cadiz Inc. is proposing to pump an average of 16.3 billion gallons of water each year for 50 years. The company says the project won’t harm any of the springs in the area, and it recently presented a study in which researchers concluded Bonanza Spring wouldn’t be affected by its groundwater pumping.

Now other researchers have come to the opposite conclusion, saying in a new study that Bonanza Spring is likely connected to the same aquifer where the company plans to draw water from wells, and that the project would put the spring at risk of drying up.

Andy Zdon, a hydrogeologist who led the study, analyzed water samples from the spring and determined that unlike other nearby springs, which are fed by rainfall that collects in relatively shallow underground sources, Bonanza Spring flows with water that comes from much deeper underground.

Zdon said the research points to a “hydraulic connection” between the spring and the aquifer that Cadiz intends to use, indicating the spring would probably be affected by the decline in the water table.

“The spring is going to be highly susceptible to drawdown from the pumping,” Zdon said. “It would likely dry up.”

The study, which was published Friday in the journal Environmental Forensics, involved a chemical analysis of water from Bonanza Spring and other springs in Mojave Trails National Monument. The research was conducted by consulting firm Partner Engineering and Science Inc. and funded by the Mojave Desert Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation group that opposes the Cadiz project.

Zdon and his team analyzed the oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in the water and said the water in Bonanza Spring has different characteristics than several other springs in this part of the desert. The stable isotopes in rainwater vary with latitude and elevation, and Zdon and his colleagues used those “signatures” to examine the sources of the spring water.

They determined that Hummingbird, Teresa, and Chuckwalla Springs are “perched” springs, which are relatively shallow and fed by local rainfall percolating into the ground, but that the water in Bonanza Spring differs from local rainfall and instead matches rain that falls well north of the Clipper Mountains in other mountains in the Mojave National Preserve.

The scientists also found that unlike other springs, the water in Bonanza Spring has similar characteristics to groundwater in the aquifer in the adjacent Fenner Valley — including the Fenner Gap, an area where Cadiz plans to pump groundwater.

Zdon coauthored the research with hydrogeologists M. Lee Davisson and Adam H. Love. They said in the study that Bonanza Spring “has generally been assumed to be a perched spring disconnected from the basin-fill aquifer system,” but that their results indicate it’s likely connected with that larger reserve of groundwater.

And if groundwater levels decline due to pumping, the researchers wrote, that “could result in an uncertain, but potentially substantial decrease in free-flowing water from the spring.”

Cadiz disputed the findings, and scientists who recently studied the spring for the company called the new research flawed.

“Zdon does not account for the existence of two observable geologic faults that fully insulate the Bonanza Spring from any impact from the Cadiz Water Project,” Cadiz President and CEO Scott Slater said in a statement.

In the earlier study commissioned by the Los Angeles-based company, researchers identified two faults that they said block groundwater flowing in fractured bedrock. They said those two “bounding faults” intersect at the spring, and groundwater spills over the faults to form the spring.

The study, which was released in January, was conducted by geologist Miles Kenney and hydrogeologist Terry Foreman, who said the effects of groundwater drawdown around the company’s wells wouldn’t reach the area of the spring due to a “hydraulic disconnect” and faults between the two areas.

The wellfield where the company intends to pump groundwater is located about 1,000 feet lower in elevation than the spring, and about 11 miles away.

In their assessment, Kenney and Foreman wrote that “the spring’s discharge is localized within a fractured rock system that is hydraulically separated from the alluvial regional groundwater system in Fenner Valley located three miles to the east.” They said their research “demonstrates that the perennial spring discharge is controlled by the existence of two bounding faults.”

As part of the research, Kenney mapped the faults and the geology around the spring. During six days of field work, Kenney inspected a tunnel uphill from the spring on the mountainside that was apparently excavated in the early 1900s by miners, and he found a portion of the fault exposed in the wall of the passage. The other intersecting fault zone was also visible.

“Essentially those faults act like dams,” Foreman said. “It’s effectively a subsurface dam that then causes the water to overspill, groundwater to spill over those faults.”

The researchers who prepared the study for Cadiz said the spring’s flow depends on recharge from precipitation in a catchment area that extends over four miles to the north.

“The spring is going to be controlled absolutely by climatic conditions, basically changes in long-term rainfall and recharge above where those faults occur,” Foreman said. “It’s going to be driven by that recharge as opposed to anything that happens in the valley.”

Kenney criticized Zdon’s research, saying “he basically didn’t look at the local geology.”

“We think it’s flawed and it needs to be corrected,” Foreman added.

Arguing over the science

Zdon said he disagreed with the conclusions of the study commissioned by Cadiz. He pointed out that Kenney and Foreman didn’t include a similar analysis of water samples.

“You can’t begin to source where water comes from without looking at the water itself, and they did not do that,” Zdon said.

Zdon previously conducted a survey of more than 300 springs and water holes across the Mojave Desert for the federal Bureau of Land Management during 2015 and 2016. He’s found that most of the springs in the desert rely on local precipitation and may increase or decrease in flow depending on whether it’s been wet or dry.

But Zdon said records from more than a century ago show that Bonanza Spring is different and that its flow has held steady at about 10 gallons a minute. It’s still putting out as much water as it did in the early 1900s, he said, when a pipeline carried water downhill to the railway stop in Danby to fill tanks aboard passing steam engines.

Zdon said other measurements provided additional clues. When a spring depends on shallow groundwater, the water temperature is usually close to the average annual air temperature. But the water in Bonanza Spring emerges from the ground more than 11 degrees warmer, indicating it’s warmed up by the earth deep underground. His team calculated the water must be coming up from more than 750 feet underground.

Zdon also analyzed the water to check for tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that was released into the atmosphere with nuclear weapons testing starting in the late 1940s. The water in nearby Teresa Spring contains tritium, showing the water fell as rain or snow sometime between the 40s and the present day. But the water in Bonanza Spring contains no tritium, indicating it’s been underground since before those atomic tests.

Zdon said other carbon-dating tests, which weren’t described in their study, have found that the water coming out of Bonanza Spring has been underground for approximately 15,000 years.

“So, between the groundwater ages, the temperatures and the chemistry, looking at it from three different directions, it’s all pointing to the same answer: that this is tied into more regional flow,” Zdon said. “That water has got to be moving towards the Clipper Mountains through the basin-fill aquifer… and seeping through the Clipper Mountains, probably along fractured rocks along the fault zones, and surfacing at the spring.”

On that point, too, the scientists who prepared the report for Cadiz said they disagree based on their observations and their work mapping the faults and reviewing scientific papers. They also studied documents concerning two old mines located about a mile northeast of the spring.

The groundwater levels in those inactive mines are about 150 feet lower than the elevation where water flows from Bonanza Spring, they wrote, suggesting that the faults in the area, which run from the northwest toward the southeast, act as barriers and “groundwater flow is effectively compartmentalized.”

“It’s physically impossible for groundwater to move from the north, across that area where those mines are, to Bonanza Spring,” Foreman said. “Groundwater levels to the north of Bonanza Spring are lower, so there’s no way that groundwater levels can go from a high to a low and then essentially go back uphill. It’s just physically not possible.”

Kenney also reviewed aerial images in mapping the faults and the geology. Cadiz’s research team said they found other geologic signs including an abundance of precipitated minerals along the fault zones, “indicating that the faults can be strong groundwater barriers.”

As part of the study commissioned by Cadiz, 10 hydrologists and geologists visited the spring in December with Foreman and Kenney, and five of them reviewed the report and agreed with the conclusion that the spring wouldn’t be affected by the water project.

Cadiz has proposed to pump groundwater on land surrounded by Mojave Trails National Monument. The company owns 34,000 acres in the desert along Route 66, and it plans to build a 43-mile pipeline to carry water from its property to the Colorado River Aqueduct.

In 2011 and 2012, Cadiz’s proposal went through an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Orange County’s Santa Margarita Water District served as the lead agency in the review process and certified the environmental impact report. The document repeatedly states that “the physical evidence indicates” the aquifer isn’t connected to the springs and therefore the pumping would have no impact on the springs.

Conservation groups challenged the environmental review in court, but they lost.

Frazier Haney, land conservation director for the Mojave Desert Land Trust, said the new research shows those environmental review documents were based on incomplete science and that the water project poses a serious threat to the spring.

During a visit to Bonanza Spring, Haney walked past blooming brittlebush shrubs and wildflowers to the edge of the spring, where the thick vegetation rustled in the breeze. He said he’s seen mountain lion tracks here. The spring is also frequented by bighorn sheep and bobcats that come to drink, and by migratory birds that forage among the trees.

Frogs and tadpoles swim in the ponds, and dozens of species of native plants grow in the wetland, which stretches a half-mile downhill from the spot where water pours out of the ground.

Walking to the top of a bluff, Haney looked out over the springs.

“It’s a magical place,” Haney said. “Springs like this are one of the most important parts of the ecosystem.”

From the ridges above the spring, you can see the open desert of the Fenner Valley below. It stretches out in a plain between mountain ranges, covered with creosote bushes. Haney pointed out the patch of the desert where Cadiz is proposing to drill new wells.

“Intensive groundwater pumping out here could be devastating for the ecosystem,” Haney said.

His group focuses on buying lands to protect parts of the desert for conservation. It has purchased more than 71,000 acres for conservation since 2006. Some of those lands have been transferred to the federal government and have become part of the Mojave Trails National Monument.

Cadiz’s managers have said they plan to use groundwater that would otherwise gradually flow downhill and evaporate from two dry lakes. On those dry lakebeds, other companies dig trenches in the cracked soil to extract salts left by the evaporating water.

The concept of using water that would otherwise evaporate from the lakebeds is reflected in the company’s formal name for its plan: the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.

“The Cadiz Water Project will stop the annual loss of more than 10 billion gallons per year to evaporation,” Courtney Degener, a vice president and spokesperson for the company, said in an email. “It cannot and will not impact area springs but it will make available new water for 400,000 people, create critical groundwater storage capacity for our region and support 5,900 new jobs in a safe and sustainable way.”

Degener said Zdon’s new study “fails to account for the most current field work and hydrogeological conclusions about area springs, and does not present any new credible findings.”

‘Cone of depression’

Cadiz’s proposal has been hotly debated for years. While pursuing the plan to sell water, the company has been pumping groundwater on its property to irrigate nearly 2,000 acres of farmland, growing lemons, grapes, raisins and other crops.

During President Barack Obama’s administration, federal officials had hindered the project by ruling that the company would need a new permit to build a water pipeline alongside a railroad.

But in October, President Donald Trump’s administration reversed that decision and gave the company a green light. The federal Bureau of Land Management told Cadiz it wouldn’t need a permit to build the pipeline along the railroad right-of-way.

Two environmental groups — the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety — are challenging that decision in a lawsuit. Another group, the National Parks Conservation Association, is suing to challenge a related policy change: a 2017 Interior Department legal opinion that said railroad companies are allowed to lease out portions of their rights-of-way for other purposes without going through a federal environmental review.

Cadiz has said it plans to move ahead with designing and building the water pipeline alongside the railroad.

That plan still could face obstacles, though, because some of the land where Cadiz wants to build the pipeline is owned by the state. And in September, California’s State Lands Commission told the company that any use of the state-owned lands under its jurisdiction would require a lease and its approval.

Opponents of the project seized on the new study, saying it reveals problems in the 2012 environmental review.

“Given this new information, I strongly believe Cadiz’s CEQA review must be reexamined,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement Friday. “Cadiz needs to accept this new scientific study and abandon its goal of draining the Mojave Desert of its most precious resource: water. It’s time Cadiz and its investors give up on this desert boondoggle.”

Chris Clarke, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, agreed and said the new research “demonstrates Cadiz has used a flawed hydrology model that produced flawed analysis” for the environmental review. He said that process “now must be corrected through additional environmental review.”

The company’s officials have defended the environmental review, pointing out that California’s environmental law is considered more stringent than any federal environmental law and that San Bernardino County in 2012 approved a groundwater management plan — formally titled the Groundwater Management, Monitoring and Mitigation Plan — which sets additional limits for the project.

Cadiz also points to the court decisions upholding the review.

“Peer-reviewed science, physical observations of the region and California’s courts all agree: The Cadiz Water Project will protect the desert environment including Bonanza Spring,” Degener said.

The groundwater management plan details the county’s oversight role for the project.

“It is not anticipated that the Project will have any impact on the springs,” the document says. “Nonetheless, this Management Plan provides for quarterly monitoring of the Bonanza Spring as an ‘indicator spring’ because it is the spring that is in closest proximity to the Project wellfield.”

The plan calls for “baseline and periodic visual observation and flow estimates” and says monitoring wells between the wellfield and the spring would be used to track groundwater levels.

According to the plan, if there’s a reduction in the spring’s flow and it’s determined to be due to the company’s wells, “corrective measures” would include reducing pumping, changing pumping locations in the wellfield or stopping groundwater extraction.

More: Federal policy change criticized for giving ‘free pass’ to controversial desert water project

One of the concerns that Zdon and others raise about Cadiz’s plan is that the pumping would create a “cone of depression” in the aquifer as groundwater flows from surrounding areas toward the company’s wellfield.

The way groundwater drawdown occurs in the desert, Zdon said, “it’s very hard to control what happens once that cone of depression starts building.”

Once the pumping begins to lower the water table, that depressed area of the aquifer would continue to expand for years, even if the pumping were stopped.

Given that dynamic, Zdon said, the monitoring plan “is not sufficient to be protective of the spring.”

“When you lower the water table below a spring system like that, the first thing you would notice is a reduction in surface flow and maybe a complete cessation of any kind of surface water at the site,” Zdon said. “If you see an impact at the spring, it’s probably too late.”

Cadiz’s executives and researchers responded that the sort of monitoring Zdon is calling for is already part of the county’s plan.

Degener said the project “will be regulated by an extensive groundwater monitoring plan enforced by the County that includes the exact kind of groundwater monitoring Zdon recommends and goes even further including monitoring features across the entire watershed.”

There are already two existing monitoring wells, one uphill from Fenner Valley and another close to Danby, Foreman said.

“It’s interesting that the water temperature in those wells is actually higher than the water temperature of the spring,” Foreman said. “And so that water has obviously moved over long distances and it’s 2 to 3 degrees higher in temperature than the spring, so we think that the spring is more local water, and those water temperatures show that separation.”

Kenney and Foreman said some of Zdon’s findings are consistent with their own but they disagree with the conclusions, including that the spring would be fed by recharge from an area far to the north.

“I’m wondering how much of his findings might change if he was to consider the watershed that we considered, not north of the Clippers but just simply the rocks in the western Clipper Mountains,” Kenney said.

Zdon and his colleagues stressed that if the pumping begins, more intensive monitoring would be necessary to protect the spring. They wrote that the groundwater monitoring “should be designed to obtain sufficient early warning of potentially damaging groundwater level decline.”

They said relying on observable changes at the spring would be ineffective, and that drilling monitoring wells close to Bonanza Spring would provide a way of spotting a decline quickly — before it’s too late for the spring.

Their research included not only data collected by Zdon and his colleagues, but also data from a study that researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted in 2000 for Cadiz and the Metropolitan Water District, which were working together at the time on an earlier iteration of the project.

That earlier research focused on identifying the recharge area and estimating the amount of recharge. It included geochemical analyses of the water in Bonanza Spring and other springs and wells.

Davisson, who was one of Zdon’s coauthors, also helped carry out that research for Lawrence Livermore back in 2000, and the data was publicly released in August 2017.

Zdon said the data helped confirm his team’s findings.

“We were actually largely using the same analytical techniques in sampling that Lawrence Livermore used back in 2000 on behalf of Cadiz,” Zdon said. “What that did was essentially confirm our sampling, because basically our results 17 years later were nearly identical with what Lawrence Livermore came up with.”

April 13, 2018

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell dies at 72

Radio host Art Bell dies at 72

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Longtime radio host Art Bell died Friday at his Pahrump home, the Nye County Sheriff’s Office announced. He was 72.

Bell’s paranormal-themed show, “Coast to Coast AM,” was syndicated on about 500 North American stations in the 1990s before he left the nightly show in 2002. He broadcast the show from Pahrump’s KNYE 95.1 FM, a station he founded.

Bell retired several times in his career, which included a short-lived show on SiriusXM satellite radio in 2013.

Returning to terrestrial radio afterward was not a difficult decision, he told the Pahrump Valley Times in August 2013.

“That’s easy, because I love it,” he said at the time. “It’s my life, and that’s all I have ever done. I went through a lot of family problems, so that interrupted things, and I was overseas for four years, and that certainly interrupted things. I went back into radio because I love it.”

Bell was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2006. He did not attend the presentation.

In 2008, Bell was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Bell was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on June 17, 1945. He served in the the U.S. Air Force as a medic during the Vietnam War.

According to the Coast to Coast AM website, Bell was an FCC licensed radio technician at age 13. He also set a Guinness World Record for a solo broadcast marathon, at more than 116 hours, while working as a DJ in Okinawa, Japan, the website said.

April 10, 2018

Finding beauty in detritus in the Mojave Desert

Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree. “No Contest (Bicycles)” (Helen Gordon/CC BY 2.0)

Mike McPhate
The California Sun

In the Mojave Desert, a post-apocalyptic menagerie of 100 or so sculptures rises from the dust.

Visitors, often arriving from long distances, wander among the large works built from junk: toilets, television sets, tires, broken keyboards, and other found objects.

There is a snake-like installation made from lunch trays, walk-through structures filled with castoff clothing, VCRs, bottles, and folded newspapers, and bowling balls fashioned into a gigantic Newton’s cradle.

This is Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum of Assemblage Sculpture, the life’s work of one of California’s most fascinating artists.

Purifoy was born in rural Alabama in 1917. He fought in World War II, then emerged later as an influential assemblage artist in 1960s Los Angeles, where he created sculptures from the rubble of the Watts riots and led the Watts Towers Art Center.

In 1989, he fled to Joshua Tree. “I wanted to do an earth piece,” he once explained to a journalist, “and you can’t get that much land in Los Angeles to do an earth piece.”

For the next 15 years, Purifoy constructed his magnum opus on a 10-acre lot at the end of a dirt road. The high-desert setting — silent, vast, and severe — seemed to heighten the strangeness of the works.

Purifoy died in 2004 at the age of 86. The Noah Purifoy Foundation was created to look after the open-air museum, a mission that has been tempered by the artist’s stated belief that the desert itself was his collaborator.

“I do assemblage. I don’t do maintenance,” Purifoy told the L.A. Times. “What nature does is part of the creative process.”

Still, the foundation has worked to prolong the life of the sculptures — touching up paint and adding guy wire to make sure things don’t fall — while acknowledging that some of it will be lost to the elements.

“Obviously there’s diminishing returns on a lot of the work,” said Joseph Lewis, the foundation’s president. “But some of it will stand the test of time.”

Lewis said Purifoy’s legacy, beyond his desert shrine, is in the inspiration the African-American artist spread throughout the art world — highlighted in a major retrospective at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015 — especially within the black community.

“His conceptual footprint is very, very large,” Lewis said, “and we want to make sure that that is put into the history books and into the canon.”

March 29, 2018

Forget Punxsutawney Phil: Vegas has own forecaster

It isn’t springtime here till this desert tortoise leaves his burrow

MOJAVE MAX has been announcing the end of winter in Las Vegas since 2000, but his public relations team is still working on raising his profile. This year he emerged on March 23 to declare the arrival of springtime. (Springs Preserve)

David Montero
Los Angeles Times

Mojave Max, the desert tortoise in Las Vegas who marks the arrival of spring each year when he emerges from his burrow, has always existed in the long shadow of Punxsutawney Phil — the ultimate case of a big star in a small market.

It's Phil who nabs the national headlines and knowing nods from high-profile news anchors when he is yanked out on Feb. 2 to let the nation know how much longer winter will last.

The groundhog from Pennsylvania has always hogged the limelight when it comes to weather prognostication — a Goliath among all creatures great and small. Even this story, which is about Mojave Max, starts off about Phil. See how it is?

The rodent's public relations team wasn't overly impressed when it heard Mojave Max had emerged from his burrow last Friday to declare the start of spring in Las Vegas.

"Ever heard of Mojave Max?" I asked Katie Donald, the executive director of the Groundhog Club in Punxsutawney.

"I'm sorry, I haven't," Donald said.

"Are you aware of other animals that do, um, seasonal work?" I asked.

"We're aware of few," Donald said. "There's a lobster in Maine — I can't think of his name. And there's a few imitator groundhogs in the Pennsylvania area that we don't acknowledge."

(The lobster is Passy Pete, by the way, and he predicts if summer will last another six weeks by opening a scroll with a claw. Forecast: It might be boiling hot, Pete. Beware.)

But Pete is in Maine, a far-flung state that is famous mostly for Stephen King, lighthouses and lobster rolls. There's also Mojave Maxine, a desert tortoise at the Living Desert in Palm Desert. She emerged from her burrow Jan. 31.

So, how is it that Mojave Max — a desert tortoise in a city that is internationally iconic and draws the biggest stars to its 24-hour spotlight — isn't much known beyond the Clark County line?

"We're working on that," concedes Dawn Barraclough, a spokeswoman for Springs Preserve, where Mojave Max lives.

Around 1994, as part of the Desert Conservation Program's effort to bring attention to the desert tortoise's threatened species status, one was identified in the area and moved to the Red Rock Canyon visitor center. He was named Mojave Max.

The resident desert tortoise, about the size of a football, has been identifying seasonal changes publicly since 2000. when the first Mojave Max emergence contest was held. When Max emerged from his burrow, the biologists would note that it signaled the start of spring in the area.

It was more low key back then — especially by Vegas standards — as the Las Vegas Strip was on the cusp of going big with resorts like Bellagio that brought in rare white tigers and dancing fountains. If Punxsutawney Phil were ever to move to Vegas, he'd probably have his own residency at a casino.

Max, seemingly, would prefer his residency to remain a dirt hole.

Heather Green, a spokeswoman for the county who works for the Desert Conservation Program, said the earliest that Mojave Max has emerged from his burrow in his years as a seasonal forecaster is Feb. 14. The latest is April 17.

Last year, biologists decided it was better for Max to not be bothered at Red Rock Canyon anymore, and he retired to a quieter life. But the tradition still carried on with a new Mojave Max — a 14-year-old desert tortoise living in captivity at Springs Preserve. In showbiz parlance, a casting change. Roger Moore in for Sean Connery. (In James Bond fashion, Max currently lives with four female tortoises on 15 acres of open space at Springs Preserve.)

Max's profile has also been raised on social media, where the tortoise has a Twitter account.

"Yep! It seemed like a good day to EMERGE!! My official emergence date and time: March 23, 2018 at 11:11 am! SPRING HAS SPRUNG," the tweet from @MojaveMax read.

Green said that, unlike Punxsutawney Phil, Max is allowed to dictate the seasonal change rather than being yanked out of a hut on a predetermined day, the way Phil has been marking Groundhog Day for more than 130 years.

Donald said Phil's track record is unblemished.

"He's been right 100% of the time," she said.

Time magazine did an analysis of Phil's accuracy and it revealed he was actually correct only about 36% of the time. This year, a warrant was issued for Phil's arrest by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Pennsylvania for deception — claiming that winter has continued longer than the six additional weeks predicted by the groundhog. Phil's publicity team argued that the warrant was a misguided attempt to blame the messenger rather than Mother Nature.

It should be noted that Mojave Max has never been subject to an arrest warrant.

Phil's club also steadfastly sticks to the lore centered around the groundhog's age. Donald said that because of a special elixir administered every few years, the same Phil has been doing prognostications for the past 132 years. Donald will not budge on this point, even though a groundhog's lifespan typically doesn't exceed eight years.

Green said desert tortoises live between 50 and 80 years. And Max doesn't have to drink an elixir, either. Just water.

But with a long lifespan, Mojave Max could have this gig for quite a while. A Vegas residency with the staying power of a Wayne Newton, Liberace or Celine Dion.

March 25, 2018

Mojave National Preserve releases plan to remove most man-made wildlife water

Most small game guzzlers like this one would be removed or neglected into a non-functioning condition under the new NPS policy.


This has happened before.

The Mojave National Preserve released its Management Plan for Developed Water Sources on Tuesday this past week along with the environmental assessment of the plan’s impacts, effectively laying the groundwork for the abandonment or removal of well over 100 historic man-made water sources and developed springs used by wildlife.

Wildlife enthusiasts have been down this road before on the Preserve, when its second superintendent, Mary Martin, directed the removal and destruction of historic cattle water sources that had served wildlife for over 75 years. This was a direct violation of the Preserve’s own management plan that called for the evaluation of the impacts that water removal would have before they were removed. That evaluation never happened, but over 100 water sources that benefitted wildlife were removed that time around.

Now, this week’s document lists four alternatives for action within the plan, but all four would lead to the loss of all but two or three of the developed water sources within designated wilderness areas. It would also lead to the loss of dozens of water sources outside of wilderness.

The impacts on wildlife this would cause within the Preserve are dismissed and not addressed in any detail in the plan, calling the impacts “localized and small,” without any supporting documentation.

The public has a 30-day window (until April 19) to comment on the plan. More information and copies of the plan are available on the Preserve website at this direct address: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/moja_waterplan_ea.

Behind the scenes, the Department of Fish and Wildlife field staff is seething over the NPS’ plan. These are the scientists who are watching decades of their water development work and resulting successes wildlife protection and mitigation for natural water source losses across the desert.

The official DFW statement from Jordan Traverso, Sacramento-based information chief, hinted at the outrage, but was restrained.

“Natural and reliable surface water sources are not always available in the current desert environment,” she said Saturday. “The Department has worked with many partners over the years, including the NPS, to establish and document the importance of reliable water sources for wildlife. Across the California desert and since the early 1950s, wildlife water developments have provided this basic necessity to support and stabilize desert wildlife populations.

“While wilderness protection would guide land managers toward keeping a natural and undeveloped landscape, the wildlife that live in these landscapes deal with the reality of the anthropogenic changes imposed upon them. Though they offer protection, large and wild spaces alone do not necessarily ensure that a viable wildlife population can be maintained in perpetuity given some of those changes on the landscape.

“As wildlife managers, we look forward to collaborating with land managing agencies to ensure that wildlife and the habitat needs they require are secured when making changes to available resources within the landscape.”

Hunting conservation groups feel betrayed. Their decades-long conservation efforts to restore and update these man-made guzzlers, spring developments, and the conversion of cattle water to wildlife water on the Preserve are set to be abandoned or destroyed.

In a nutshell, the plan is an assault on all wildlife within the preserve and spells out the agency’s vision of “wilderness.” That vision comes at the expense of all desert wildlife and virtually all the other mandates called for in the Preserve’s management plan. Those who have battled through the 233 pages of “bias and hypocrisy” have pointed out major flaws common to all alternatives.

Cliff McDonald, the president of Water for Wildlife, a conservation group that has repaired over 160 guzzlers in the past several years, including many on the Preserve before the work was halted there, was outraged by the lack of common sense in the NPS proposal.

McDonald pointed out that the 68 big and small game guzzlers within wilderness occupy less than 3/4s of an acre total ground space of the 804,000 acres of wilderness within the Preserve, but the Preserve staff believes that 3/4 acre impacts “wilderness character” to the detriment of the designation.

“The impact is on one one-millionth of the Preserve’s wilderness. One millionth! How is that impact of the wildness an issue?” asked McDonald. “Don’t the benefits of this water for desert wildlife outweigh the impacts?”

Ironically, even the current Preserve superintendent Todd Suess has admitted to DFW staff that the Wilderness Act doesn’t mandate the removal or abandonment of these historic structures to comply with the wilderness designation. In fact, on nearby Bureau of Land Management Lands, also designated wilderness, maintenance and even construction of new guzzlers has been allowed because of the value to wildlife.

According to opponents of the water plan, the hypocrisy comes in when you realize the plan’s alternatives continue to allow at least two big game drinkers within the preserve’s wilderness because of their documented importance to bighorn sheep, but somehow decided the other wildlife drinkers have no importance.

Yet, the National Park Service has done no assessment to evaluate the impact the removal of the other 66 man-made drinkers will have on all wildlife that currently use those water sources. It has been determined -- apparently by “fiat and lots of hypocrisy” -- that quasi-pristine wilderness is more important than wildlife. Ironically, most of the guzzlers would not be removed or their footprint restored, they would simply remain and allowed to decay until non-functional. So, theoretically, the negative impacts will still exist -- they just won’t serve an important wildlife function any longer. This is simply insane.

The NPS staff is also mandated to protect and maintain historic sites throughout the Preserve, and most of these guzzlers were made in the 50s, as part of a concerted effort by the state DFW to create and enhance water sources for wildlife, even then recognizing the important to mitigate for urban sprawl and loss of historic natural water sources. There has been no effort by Preserve staff to recognize the historic value of these guzzlers or to maintain them for their intended purpose.

The park service has even been obstructing the gathering of data that would show the importance of water for the Preserve’s wildlife. Eight years into a comprehensive deer study on the Preserve, the park service removed its support of the project when it was entering a phase when the importance of man-made water sources would be evaluated and tested by turning on and off some of these sources and measuring impacts. The reason support was removed: It wasn’t going to affect the park service’s decision on how to manage the water sources.

The document also says there are 311 natural springs on the Preserve. Somehow that number has increased in this period of drought from a list of 101 that were found to hold year-around water in the 2008 NPS survey of springs. Many of the 175 suspected springs checked during those surveys proved to be dry or seasonal water sources.

So, how has the number of springs increased?

Is that a fabrication that includes historic (now dry) springs, seasonal seeps, and tenejas? Who knows? Is the number included to make the Preserve seem awash in natural water?

It’s not. It’s a desert and barren of wildlife where there is not available water. Sadly, that includes most of the Preserve’s lands. Where there’s water, the Preserve is a wildlife oasis.

So what is this water removal plan really all about?

That is the mammoth in the creosote that no one is talking about:

Fundamentally, it is about the bias the NPS staff has against the Preserve’s number one visitor: Hunters. Hunters still make up the bulk of the visitation on the Preserve. Hunters are the only volunteers trying to maintain this desert wildlife water since that job was abandoned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and never even attempted by the federal land management agencies, like the NPS.

Hunters (and cattle ranchers) are the only reason there is the diversity and quantity of wildlife there is on the Preserve. Over 350 species of birds and mammals have been documented on the man-made water. (So, no, it’s not only about the seven species of wildlife that may be hunted in the desert.) Preserving and adding water in desert is a good thing for all wildlife, and it is a means of mitigating for what has been lost through human activity elsewhere in the Mojave.

But it still sticks in the craw of the National Park Service staff that hunting was allowed on the vast property, and they are willing to sacrifice the Preserve’s wildlife to try to reduce or eliminate the number of hunters. They are willing to abandon 75 years of solid conservation efforts to bring the deer and desert sheep herds back. They are willing to dramatically reduce the numbers and diversity of birds and small mammals for their agenda.

There is no other explanation for this insanity. They all know the Wilderness Act doesn’t mandate actions this extreme. There is simply no other explanation.

Hopefully, enough people will get their federal representatives involved. Maybe then Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of Interior, will hear about this outrageous proposal and have it quietly withdrawn because it clearly violates Interior policy about cooperation with state game agency efforts and a recent policy to enhance recreational opportunities -- like hunting -- where appropriate.

The NPS staff got away with ripping out the cattle/wildlife water and seriously impacted the Preserves wildlife populations over a decade ago. That can’t happen again.

December 22, 2017

Preparing for a drier future along the Colorado River

The Colorado River flows beside a hay field near Blythe. (Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Ian James
The Desert Sun

After a 17-year run of mostly dry years, the Colorado River’s flow has decreased significantly below the 20th century average.

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, now stands just 39 percent full. The level of the reservoir behind Hoover Dam has been hovering a bit above historic lows during the past year, helped by a bigger snowpack last winter and strides in water conservation.

But with scenarios of the reservoir falling to critical lows looking very possible in the coming years, managers of water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada have signaled their interest in finalizing a deal under which they would take less water from Lake Mead in an attempt to head off severe shortages.

It’s not clear how much longer it might take for officials at water districts in the three states to agree on the details of the proposed Drought Contingency Plan, which they’ve been discussing since 2015. But given the enormous strains on the river, the disconnect between its flow and the amounts diverted, and the growing impacts of climate change, experts say this sort of agreement seems a necessary first step toward preparing for a hotter and drier future in the Southwest.

“It’s great to have the structural deficit taken care of, and that’s frankly what the Drought Contingency Plan does is take care of that,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. But if the flow of the river decreases more in the coming years — by say, more than 20 percent, for example — he said those measures won’t go far enough in “dealing with the conflict that will fall out of such declines.”

In March, Udall and fellow climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck published research in which they found that reductions in the river’s flow averaged 19 percent per year between 2000 and 2014. They estimated that somewhere between one-sixth and one-half of that loss in flow was due to higher temperatures — 0.9 degree Celsius, or 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the average over the previous 94 years.

In the study, which was published in the journal Water Resources Research, they described the conditions since 2000 as a “temperature-dominated drought.”

Using climate models to estimate a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, they also projected that without changes in precipitation, warming will likely cause the Colorado River’s flow to decrease by 35 percent or more this century.

“We have real challenges ahead,” Udall said. “Climate change is here now. It’s real, it’s getting increasingly worse, and the old way of doing business is not going to suffice.”

Managers of water agencies from across the West met this month at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, near Lake Mead, for the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association. Officials from the Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — all expressed support for having rules in place before a shortage hits.

“To a person, they all noted how important it is that we reach an agreement in the basin,” said Jennifer Pitt, the National Audubon Society's Colorado River project director, who attended the meeting.

In the long-term, Pitt said, it will be important to have policies in place to prepare for longer and more severe droughts.

“What if we had another 20 years like we just had, another 20 years of super-dry conditions? Are we prepared for that?” Pitt said. “I’d say today, we are not prepared.”

But she added that a U.S.-Mexico Colorado River deal signed in September provides a policy that’s “ready to be triggered” to help the situation. Under the accord, dubbed Minute 323, Mexico agreed to cut the amount it takes from the river alongside the U.S. states — as long as the Drought Contingency Plan is in place, and whenever the states end up shouldering reductions under that plan.

The agreement also provides for Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead, helping to boost the reservoir’s levels.

More than a year ago, officials representing California, Arizona and Nevada had said they were hopeful they would finalize the Drought Contingency Plan soon. But disagreements flared in Arizona, and California water districts have also had issues to work out.

One potential obstacle apparently was removed in November when California water regulators adopted an agreement that commits the state to following through on plans of building wetlands and controlling dust around the shrinking Salton Sea over the next 10 years.

The Imperial Irrigation District holds the biggest single water entitlement along the Colorado River and supplies water to farms producing crops from alfalfa to Brussels sprouts. The Salton Sea is shrinking under a water transfer deal that is sending water to growing cities in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

The Imperial district’s leaders had warned California officials that that they would only take part in the Colorado River deal if there is a credible “roadmap” for dealing with the decline of the Salton Sea. IID officials praised the Salton Sea agreement, indicating that their condition has now been met.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water for about 40 million people and more than 5 million acres of farmland from Wyoming to California.

The legal framework that divvies up the Colorado River was established during much wetter times nearly a century ago, starting with the 1922 Colorado River Compact. That and subsequent agreements have handed out more water than what flows in the river in an average year, leading to chronic overuse.

The treaties that originally divided the river among seven states and Mexico allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year for states in the river’s Upper Basin, including Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico; 7.5 million acre-feet for the Lower Basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California; and 1.5 million acre-feet for Mexico.

For decades, so much water has been diverted from dams all along the Colorado that the river seldom meets the sea. The river’s delta in Mexico has become a dusty stretch of desert.

Lake Mead is managed together with Lake Powell, on the border between Arizona and Utah, and the combined amount of water in the two reservoirs has been much smaller since the mid-2000s than in the previous two decades. While the reservoirs’ levels have retreated, heavy pumping of groundwater has also led to declining aquifers in parts of the river basin.

Yet, even as water policymakers have widely agreed that the outlook calls for changes to adapt, there have also been some significant water-saving successes, which have helped somewhat in pushing back potential shortages at Lake Mead.

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, pointed out in a blog post this month that Colorado River use in Arizona, Nevada and California is set to end the year at the lowest level since 1986.

Pitt said a key objective now will be developing approaches for maintaining the reliability of water supplies and avoiding a crash, in which Lake Mead falls so far that it triggers painful cutoffs of water deliveries.

“We have to put some policies in place to prevent those catastrophic outcomes,” Pitt said. An agreement like the proposed Drought Contingency Plan, she said, would be a step in that direction.

“A certain amount of incrementalism seems to be appropriate in this case,” Pitt said, “because dealing with this level of change in hydrologic conditions is something we don’t have a huge history of.”

There are also other challenges, Udall said, including the idea among some water officials in parts of the Upper Basin such as Utah and Colorado that “it’s OK to still go develop additional water resources in the Colorado River Basin.”

Udall pointed to Utah, where water districts are proposing to build a 140-mile pipeline — at a projected cost of between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion — to carry water from Lake Powell to growing communities in two counties. The pipeline would transport up to 77 million gallons per day, or 86,000 acre-feet per year, to a reservoir near St. George.

“Why would you want to pour gas on the fire and use more, set up a system … that takes another 100,000 acre-feet out of the river and just digs a deeper hole for us to solve?” Udall said. “In law, they are allowed to do that. But it’s like doubling down on a bad bet and it’s just going to make the pain all the more serious if and should we have to deal with large declines in flow.”

The pipeline proposal is undergoing a review by federal regulators. Officials at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced on Dec. 11 that they are starting to carry out an environmental analysis and for the next 60 days will accept comments from the public on the project.

December 12, 2017

Court upholds Obama-era ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon

The Kanab North uranium mine near the Grand Canyon above Kanab Creek. (Mark Henle/The Republic)

Joshua Bowling

PHOENIX — The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a 20-year ban on new uranium mining on public land near the Grand Canyon, while also striking down a challenge to an existing uranium mine south of Grand Canyon National Park.

In its opinion, the court ruled that the ban, imposed in 2012 under former president Obama, lines up with the Constitution and federal environmental laws. However, it ruled that a mine 6 miles south of the national park had a right to operate.

"We upheld the decision of the secretary of the Interior to withdraw, for 20 years, more than 1 million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims," the opinion states. "That withdrawal did not extinguish 'valid existing rights.' "

The ban was put in place by the U.S. Department of the Interior under former secretary Ken Salazar. It came as mining operations were renewing their interest in uranium deposits near the canyon.

A spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior declined to comment Tuesday and said the Department of Justice handles questions on litigation.

A DOJ spokesman declined to comment and did not respond to further questions.

The suit — led by the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club — sought continued protections under the standing mining ban.

"The Havasupai people have been here since time immemorial. This place is who we are,” Havasupai Tribal Chairman Don Watahomigie said in a statement. "This place, these waters and our people deserve protection. The lives of our children and the purity of our waters are not to be gambled with and are not for sale."

In addition to the canyon's symbolic value, supporters of the suit argued it has significant economic value.

Grand Canyon National Park in 2016 contributed about $904 million to local economies and supported nearly 9,800 jobs, according to the National Park Service.

"The Department of the Interior’s decision to protect one of the world’s most enduring landscapes and the sustained health of indigenous communities that live within the watershed of the Grand Canyon was a strong and appropriate one,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

About 1 million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon are protected under the ban, though the continued exception for existing mines came as a disappointment to the plaintiffs in the suit.

"We are disappointed that the court did not uphold the challenge to Canyon Mine, however, and we will continue to do all we can to ensure permanent protection of these lands," Sierra Club Grand Canyon chapter director Sandy Bahr said in a statement Tuesday.

The appeals court's decision comes on the heels of President Trump's decision to drastically shrink two national monuments in Utah — a decision a Navajo Nation attorney called a "slap in the face."

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has drawn conservationists' ire for his review of national monuments, in particular those established under former presidents Obama and Bill Clinton.

He initially ordered a review of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, north of the Canyon, an area that sits atop uranium deposits. Ultimately, he left the monument unchanged.

In a statement Tuesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., criticized Zinke for "ongoing actions to hand over public lands to extractive industries instead of ensuring taxpayers get a fair deal."

A history of litigation

The suit is far from the first for the uranium mining ban.

In 2012, the year it was put in place, The Arizona Republic reported that the National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute challenged the ban's constitutional merits.

Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the mining group, said at the time that the Interior Department "offered no evidence ... that a million-acre land grab is necessary to avoid environmental harm."

Taylor McKinnon, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Tuesday that opening exposing the land to uranium mining could do harm to its aquifers.

“Any effort to lift this crucial ban will meet fierce opposition,” his statement read. “There’s every reason to believe uranium mining could permanently damage Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers and springs. That’s an unacceptable risk, and it’s immoral of Congress and Trump to even consider it.”

What's next?

Although the mining ban has worked its way through the legal system, some believe this could be the end of the line.

Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said he doesn't believe the case will end up before the Supreme Court.

"In both cases, the appellate court upheld the district court and there was no discrepancy in their rulings and there’s very little, I’m told by our attorneys, angle for appeal in either case," he said. "I’m not an attorney, so I’ll put that caveat in there."

December 6, 2017

Trump administration hints at changes to California desert's smallest national monument

President Barack Obama used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to protect this lush expanse of Joshua trees in the Castle Mountains. Obama designated the Castle Mountains National Monument in 2016. (Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Sammy Roth
The Desert Sun

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke isn't recommending any changes to Sand to Snow or Mojave Trails, two national monuments in the California desert that were established by then-President Barack Obama last year.

But Zinke's review of 27 national monuments, which was released to the public on Tuesday, hints at the possibility of allowing hunting in Castle Mountains National Monument, a pocket of California desert tucked between Mojave National Preserve and the Nevada border, where jutting mountains that look like the ramparts of a castle loom over Joshua trees, bighorn sheep, abundant grasses and a gold-mining ghost town.

The desert's bighorn sheep are protected by the Endangered Species Act, so any hunting would be extremely limited. But the Castle Mountains area is also home to mule deer, bobcats, quail, cottontail rabbits and other species sought by hunters.

President Donald Trump ordered Zinke earlier this year to review all monuments larger than 100,000 acres that have been established by presidential decree since 1996. That appeared to exclude Castle Mountains, which was designated by Obama alongside Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails but encompasses just 21,000 acres. But Trump also told Zinke to review any monuments Zinke determined were established "without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders." Rep. Paul Cook, a Republican who represents the High Desert, wrote a letter to Zinke arguing that Castle Mountains was "created without any local outreach or input," and that Obama had created the monument for the sole purpose of preventing the reopening of a gold mine.

In a brief section of Zinke's report labeled "other monuments," the Interior secretary lists just one example of a monument he believes was established without adequate public outreach: Castle Mountains. Zinke said his review process "uncovered inadequate communication with the sportsmen community." According to his report, hunting is prohibited in Castle Mountains because Obama's monument proclamation didn't explicitly say it's allowed, even though hunting is permitted next door in the 1.6-million acre Mojave National Preserve. Both sites are managed by the National Park Service.

Zinke didn't explicitly call for changes to the management of Castle Mountains National Monument. But in the paragraph immediately after his mention of Castle Mountains, he recommended "ongoing review of monuments to ensure that while continuing to protect objects, the proclamations prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades, repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights."

An Interior Department spokesperson didn't respond to an emailed question about whether Zinke intends to recommended changes to Castle Mountains. A spokesperson for Cook, the GOP member of Congress, also didn't respond to a request for comment.

David Lamfrom, director of national wildlife programs for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, rejected the idea that there wasn't adequate public outreach before the Castle Mountains monument designation. Separate pieces of legislation proposed by Cook and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, would have added the area to Mojave National Preserve, but those bills were bogged down by the more contentious politics of the proposed Mojave Trails monument. Only after several failed legislative efforts did Obama use the Antiquities Act to make Castle Mountains a national monument, since it could only be added to the national preserve by Congress.

"There's been decades of work of vetting related to Castle Mountains," Lamfrom said.

Still, Lamfrom said he thinks it's "reasonable to have a conversation" about allowing hunting in Castle Mountains, especially considering it's allowed in Mojave National Preserve, which surrounds the monument on three sides. He said Congress could vote to allow hunting, or the National Park Service could initiate a rule-making process.

"That should be locally driven and include local management and local stakeholders. So I think that having that conversation is OK, in terms of that larger management, in terms of consistency of management over these larger landscapes," Lamfrom said. He added that enforcing a prohibition on hunting within the 21,000-acre monument may be difficult, considering it's surrounded by the much larger preserve, where hunting is allowed.

Zinke recommended shrinking six national monuments: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, Gold Butte in Nevada, and Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Trump got a head start on those recommendations on Monday, traveling to Salt Lake City to sign orders dramatically reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase-Escalante, both of which were hated by the state's all-Republican congressional delegation.

Zinke also advised changes to the way four other monuments are managed: Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean, and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico.

Collectively, the changes envisioned by Zinke could open more of America's public lands and waters to oil and gas drilling, mining, timber harvesting and commercial fishing.

Conservationists, outdoors enthusiasts and recreation companies have slammed Zinke's monuments review as a sham designed to allow private companies to exploit public resources. They've also argued Trump doesn't have the legal authority to make such sweeping changes to monuments designated by his predecessors under the Antiquities Act, although several presidents have reduced the size of such monuments.

More than a dozen environmental groups and Native American tribes have already filed lawsuits challenging Trump's proclamation shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase. The outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which is based in Ventura, California, has also threatened to sue. The company protested Trump's actions Monday by briefly replacing its online homepage with the message, "The president stole your land."

Zinke responded to Patagonia's criticism on Tuesday, telling reporters that it's "shameful and appalling to blatantly lie in order to get money in their coffers." He said any land removed from a national monument would still be owned by the federal government.

"Not one square inch was stolen," Zinke said.

December 4, 2017

Trump shrinks Utah monuments created by Obama, Clinton

Vice President Al Gore applauds after President Bill Clinton signs a bill designating about 1.7 million acres of land in southern Utah's red-rock cliff as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, at the Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona In this Sept. 18, 1996. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

By Barnini Chakraborty
Fox News

Capping months of speculation, President Trump on Monday signed a pair of executive orders to significantly shrink two of Utah’s national monuments – Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante – that were created by his Democratic predecessors.

The controversial move was pitched by Trump as a win for states' rights and follows an April review conducted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on the boundaries of large national monuments. The review initially looked at more than two dozen sites designated by presidential decree since the 1990s.

“I know you love this land the best and you know how to protect it and you know how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come,” Trump told a group of people at Utah’s Capitol in Salt Lake City. “They don’t know your land. They don’t care for your land like you do.”

Trump’s presidential proclamations cut Bears Ears by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante in half. The action is also likely to trigger a legal battle that could alter the government’s approach to conservation.

Utah’s congressional and state leaders lobbied the president to reduce the size of the monuments so the state would have more control on what can be done on the land.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah praised the announcement and said Trump was giving the people of Utah “a voice in the process.”

Zinke maintained Monday that the move should be seen as correcting an overreach by the federal government.

“We’re not taking one square inch of federal land and transferring it or selling it. It is still federal land, with all the protections of federal land,” Zinke said, adding that the biggest change is that the government is “allowing greater use on the areas that were previously in the monument.”

Opponents, however, see it as the latest example of the government breaking promises to Native American tribes and eroding protections for public land.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument dedicated to Native American culture.

Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who was instrumental in designating Bears Ears monument, tweeted Trump’s actions “will make him the most anti-conservation president in our history. He will be challenged by tribes and thoughtful citizens that recognize that some places are too special to develop.”

About 2,000 people lined up near Utah’s capitol on Monday, holding signs like “Keep your tiny hands off our public lands” and chanting “lock him up!” at Trump.

There were also protests held over the weekend at Utah’s snowy capital.

“I think it’s important to have natural places that are untouched and not modified,” demonstrator Valerie Huitzul told Fox News.

Huitzul was among the 5,000 protesters who showed up over the weekend.

The decision to shrink the state’s sprawling wilderness shrines has prompted fierce backlash by environmental groups as well.

Ahead of Monday’s visit, 146 scientists, researchers and academic organizations from 19 states sent a letter to the Trump administration calling the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument “an important living laboratory” to scientific research.

The Center for Western Priorities described Monday’s event as the largest rollback of protections for lands and wildlife in U.S. history.

Arnold Miller, president of the Paleontological Society and Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Geology at the University of Cincinnati, said the Grand Staircase-Escalante “contains a trove of scientifically-valuable fossils and strata from boundary to boundary, and the excising of portions of this national monument for mining or other commercial activities will tragically compromise its integrity.”

Trump said Monday while leaving the White House that the monument announcement is "something that the state of Utah and others have wanted to be done for many, many years." He said it is "so important for states' rights and so important for the people of Utah."

In December, shortly before leaving office, Obama irritated Utah Republicans by creating the Bears Ears National Monument on land sacred to Native Americans.

Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the protections. Trump is able to upend the protections under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president broad authority to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict their use.

Trump said at the time that he had spoken to state and local leaders "who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab. And it's gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we're going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened."

The move marks the first time in a half century that a president has undone these types of land protections. And it could be the first of many changes to come.

Zinke has also recommended that Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou monuments be reduced in size, though details remain unclear. The former Montana congressman's plan would allow logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico.

November 16, 2017

Here’s why Cadiz company says it’s taking ‘a little pause’ from its desert water project

A pumping station designed to help Cadiz project researchers understand how quickly water seeps into the earth, migrate to the subterranean lakes. The Cadiz project hopes to pump water that would otherwise evaporate from their unique Mojave Desert site and make it available for municipal use and agriculture. Picture made at the Cadiz project site in the Mojave Desert on Monday, June 1, 2015.

San Bernardino Sun

LOS ANGELES--Fresh from gaining the long-sought federal approval for its massive desert water project, Scott Slater, Cadiz president and CEO, said it’s time for the project to “slow down” a bit.

“We are going to take a little pause…and double our effort to allow people to understand this project,” Slater said. “We believe people should support an innovative project like ours.

The Cadiz project involves pumping billions of gallons of water annually from an underground aquifer in a remote part of the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. The water would be piped to parts of Orange County and other locations, which could include San Bernardino County. Cadiz water could serve as many as 400,000 people.

This year, with the Trump administration running the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management, the Cadiz project gained momentum.

The Obama administration had not supported the desert water project.

One environmentalist who has studied and followed the project for years, said pausing at this point strikes an odd note.

“They have waited years for this clearance, and now, after getting the blessing from the BLM, they take a pause?” said David Lamfrom, California Desert and National Wildlife Programs director with the National Parks Conservation Association.

Lamfrom said he believes the pause is really because the California Lands Commission has recently surfaced as a possible stumbling block to the project.

Cadiz downplays that notion.

“We want to be having conversations with stakeholders and decision makers,” Slater said of the company’s focus for the remaining weeks of the year.

Last month the Lands Commission wrote Cadiz, saying the company needs to fill out an application for a lease permit on a 200-foot-wide by 1-mile long slice of the project’s proposed 43-mile pipeline.

However, Cadiz management does not consider the state’s request to be a significant impediment. Whether the proposed use of railroad right-of-way falls within the state’s permit, issued in June 1910, is something for “an impartial judge” to decide, not the state land commission, the company contends.

Cadiz and Slater, are riding a crest, at least on the federal level. Much has changed in the past two years.

Legal turn-around

In October 2015 the Cadiz project was dealt a major setback when the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Land Management rejected the company’s use of an 1875 railway right-of-way to build a critical pipeline.

In statements, Cadiz has said that the BLM’s October 2015 evaluation “not only impeded the Cadiz Water Project but also set a troubling precedent for thousands of miles of existing uses of railroad rights-of-way in the West.”

Things began to change in September. The project got a huge boost when the Interior Department’s Office of the Solicitor issued an opinion which appeared to allow construction of a 43-mile pipeline from Fenner Valley — about 40 miles northeast of Twentynine Palms — to the Colorado River Aqueduct, where it could deliver water to potential customers.

Nevertheless, the opinion didn’t provide a clear green light.

The definitive victory came in October, when Michael D. Nedd, BLM acting director, cemented the government’s about-face in a letter to Slater.

The letter said the BLM’s October 2015 interpretation of the law no longer represents the agency’s viewpoint and has been rescinded. It also said the scope of the proposed activity does not require BLM authorization.

Groups opposed to the project were outraged.

“This just confirms what the administration has been signaling (since Donald Trump was sworn in as president). They will bend heaven and earth to try to move the Cadiz project forward,” Lamfrom said.

Slater has a different viewpoint:

The action of October 2015 was a “bogus act by the BLM” that took “two years for them to get right.”

Support for the project originated, not from the Trump administration, but a broadly based group of business and political leaders who advocated for what they believe is a good project, Slater said.

Labor groups, including North America’s Building Trades Unions, wrote Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, supporting the project, Slater said.

After receiving the BLM’s favorable ruling, Cadiz said it would turn its attention to final engineering design, contract arrangements with participating agencies and a conveyance agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Although the engineering plans are proceeding, Cadiz is not immediately applying to the Metropolitan water district for use of pipelines to transport its Mojave Desert water to customers. That will happen early next year, said Courtney Degener, a Cadiz spokeswoman.


Slater said a major misconception he wants to address stems from an allegation that Sen. Dianne Feinstein made in late September. Feinstein, D-Calif., said allowing Cadiz water into the Metropolitan Water District’s system “could endanger the health of not only Cadiz’s customers but all 19 million Californians who rely on that water.”

Feinstein, who has long opposed the Cadiz project, contends the desert water is polluted with arsenic and Chromium-6.

Although Slater did not mention Feinstein by name, he said no company in California or the United States would be allowed to put water into a drinking water supply pipeline that does not meet state and federal standards.

Shortly after Feinstein questioned the safety of using the desert water, Cadiz issued a statement calling Feinstein’s remarks “irresponsible and not true.”

A state agency tasked with protecting California’s water supply seemed to back up the Cadiz company.

“Any water system that wants to bring on a new source of water must have the new source permitted, which would include sampling the new source for water quality before it was put into use,” said Andrew DiLuccia, spokesman for the State Water Resources Control Board.

Ongoing battle

For a time, the project faced a threat by a Feinstein-backed bill in the state Legislature that would have prohibited the Cadiz water transfer unless the state Lands Commission, in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, finds the project “will not adversely affect the natural or cultural resources, including groundwater resources or habitat, of those federal and state lands.”

But in early September, AB 1000, the bill to block Cadiz, was itself blocked in the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

A short time later, however, the state Lands Commission, asserted that it owned a 200-foot wide by one-mile long parcel along the path Cadiz plans to use for its 43-mile pipeline.

The Lands Commission’s chairman is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who along with Gov. Jerry Brown, supported AB1000.

The Lands Commission sent Cadiz an application for it to complete. After Cadiz submits its application, commission staff members will analyze land ownership and the level of environmental documentation to be required before a decision is made, the state agency said in a letter to Cadiz.

The company is questioning the request.

Cadiz will comply with any “lawful condition” imposed by the Lands Commission but does not intend to fill out an application before there can be a discussion about what this state agency is seeking from Cadiz, Slater said.

September 1, 2017

California lawmakers block Mojave water bill, Cadiz surges

Amboy Crater lies 20 miles west of Cadiz in the eastern Mojave Desert in this undated photo. (Courtesy Bureau of Land Management)

Reporting by Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Shares of water resource developer Cadiz Inc (CDZI.O) surged 32 percent in extended trade on Friday after a bill aimed at clogging up its plan to pump water from California’s Mojave Desert failed to make it past a state Senate committee.

In a blow to environmentalists and other opponents of the project, California’s Senate Appropriations Committee held Bill AB 1000, known as the California Desert Protection Act, instead of advancing it.

“I‘m deeply disappointed that the state legislature is actively blocking a bill to prevent Cadiz - one of the Trump administration’s pet projects - from destroying the Mojave Desert,” U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said in a statement.

AB 1000 would require additional state government certifications that could stop plans by Cadiz to capture groundwater that it says would otherwise evaporate under 34,000 acres of land it owns in the eastern Mojave Desert.

Aimed at supplying water for 400,000 people, the Cadiz Water Project has already been approved by two California public agencies and withstood court challenges.

“The Cadiz Project will add a new reliable water supply in Southern California and safely and sustainably manage groundwater that is otherwise lost to evaporation,” Cadiz spokeswoman Courtney Degener said in a statement after the committee’s decision.

Under President Donald Trump, the Bureau of Land Management in March undid two Obama-era directives preventing Cadiz from using a federal railroad right-of-way to build a water pipeline.

Cadiz’s stock had lost a fifth of its value earlier in Friday’s session ahead of the Senate committee’s meeting. Its after-the-bell surge following the committee’s decision more than made up for that loss.

California Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday sent a letter to legislative leaders urging them to pass the bill and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom sent a similar missive.

Had the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the bill, it would have faced additional legislative hurdles before Brown could sign it.

August 28, 2017

Under Obama, a gold mining firm was fine with a Mojave Desert monument. Under Trump, an about-face

Aren Hall, environmental manager of the open-pit Newcastle mining operation, surveys the eastern Mojave Desert site. (Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times)

by Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

Less than a year ago, President Obama’s designation of a new national monument in the eastern Mojave Desert — featuring a row of jagged peaks rising above native grasslands and Joshua trees — was hailed as a compromise that served the goals of conservationists and the mining industry.

The 20,920-acre monument surrounded, but did not include, an open-pit gold mining operation at the southern end of the Castle Mountains. That allowed Newcastle Gold Ltd. of Canada to proceed with plans to excavate 10 million tons of ore from its 8,300-acre parcel through 2025.

“The company appreciates that it has been consulted throughout this process,” Newcastle said at the time. “The new land designation reflects a compromise position that meets our needs as well as respecting the interests of other stakeholders in the area.”

So, conservationists said, they were caught off guard to learn Newcastle’s position shifted after the Trump administration moved to roll back federal protections on many of the monuments created by previous administrations.

Castle Mountains National Monument was not on the list of 27 sites proposed for status modification or elimination. In a plan delivered Thursday to the White House, but not released to the public, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he has suggested the president make changes at “a handful” of those monuments.

Yet letters obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that Newcastle and Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) have told Zinke the designation was made without adequate public outreach or input from the company.

The firm’s recommended solution: Reduce the size of Castle Mountains National Monument by 50%.

“The company gave its word that the deal we struck nearly a year ago was good,” David Lamfrom, director of California and desert wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Assn., said last week. “So we’re … furious to learn that the company and its supporters have been secretly complaining that the process was unjust.”

In an interview, Gerald Panneton, chief executive of Newcastle, confirmed that the company met with Interior Department officials in June to discuss shrinking the monument. He dismissed the company’s initial cheery assessment of Obama’s designation as “words used to calm investors.”

“There were never adequate consultations with us,” said Panneton, who joined the company after the designation was made. “That’s a problem because we need room to explore and grow.”

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Desert Dispatch newspaper, Cook accused Obama of creating the Castle Mountains monument under the Antiquities Act “without a public meeting or public comment” as part of a “backroom deal” with conservationists. He also said Trump has specifically asked Zinke to modify the monument.

Alex Hinson, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, declined to comment.

The area where the monument is located, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, has a long history of battles pitting preservationists against mining, grazing and recreational interests.

In the late 1980s, plans to use a controversial gold-mining technology came under attack by environmentalists, who claimed it would dry up a perennial spring and attract wildlife to cyanide-laced water.

In 1994, the mineral-rich portion of land was carved out of the adjacent Mojave National Preserve at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who recognized the economic value of its gold mining operations. The then-Viceroy Mine produced more than 1 million ounces of gold by the time its main pits — dubbed Leslie Ann, Oro Bell and Jumbo — were shuttered in 2001 due to low gold prices.

Standing one recent day at the edge of a mining pit dug into the mountains, Newcastle environmental manager Aren Hall smiled and said, “Impressive, isn’t it?”

Panneton said Newcastle aims to resume production next year.

“We’re more than happy to sit down with environmental groups and work out our differences,” he said. “For example, the mine could help subsidize the monument and Mojave National Preserve once it’s up and running and making a profit.”

Lamfrom, however, has his doubts.

“The company’s word is not as good as gold,” he said.

August 24, 2017

Review of monuments’ designation justified

Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley,
represents the High Desert in
the House of Representatives.

By Rep. Paul Cook
Desert Dispatch

As you might recall, former President Obama unilaterally designated two monuments in our area despite significant local opposition, doing so through misuse of the Antiquities Act. The creation of a Mojave Trails monument has been debated for some time, and a local consensus was reached on its boundary. Still, after colluding with special interest groups and performing a single fly-over in an airplane, Obama created a much larger monument and did so without a public meeting or public comment. He created another monument, Castle Mountains, out of thin air by that same abusive process.

You might also have heard attack ads against me and President Trump, implying that we seek to destroy these monuments. (They neglect to mention that I support fully a third monument, Sand to Snow.) If you’re skeptical of their message, you should be. It’s a complete lie on multiple levels. My position on Mojave Trails has never changed: The President should abide by the bipartisan boundaries established in my desert bill and Senator Feinstein’s desert bill. My position on Castle Mountains has never changed: no monument should be created without public input.

Anyone or any entity supporting Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act is supporting the dirty closed-door politics that Washington, D.C. has given us for too long. We shouldn’t accept the absurd notion that a single politician should determine the fate of your livelihood, community, and region without your input — that somehow he knows best. Furthermore, opposing Obama’s abuse of the Antiquities Act does not mean opposition to protecting public lands.

I support smart conservation, with monuments created through a thorough public vetting process. That’s why I introduced desert legislation in 2015 (HR 3668) and again in 2017 (HR 857), because we deserve a sensible approach to conservation that includes input from Congress and the public. While drafting these bills, I’ve worked with countless stakeholders — including the aforementioned environmental groups and other environmental groups with better integrity — to ensure that land protections meet the demands of local economies, recreationalists, and conservationists. This resulted in significant support locally.

The county of Inyo and cities of Apple Valley, Banning, Barstow, Big Bear Lake, Hesperia, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley endorsed my proposal because it protected public access to Mojave Trails. I even mailed a survey to tens of thousands of households in my district to see if a monument or a less restrictive designation was preferred for Mojave Trails. A plurality of the 2,500 survey responses supported a less restrictive designation (47% to 44%).

Instead of protecting the 965,000 acres of Mojave Trails as addressed in Feinstein’s legislation and my own, Obama drew a staggering 1.6 million-acre boundary. To make matters worse, Obama created the Castle Mountains National Monument to stop a mining project that environmental extremists have long despised. In fact, the actual Castle Mountains — an interesting topographical feature — could have been protected without drawing the boundary so large as to prevent the mining operation. In both cases, Obama used the Antiquities Act to circumvent public scrutiny.

That’s why President Trump asked Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to issue recommendations on modifying Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains national monuments. It’s ironic that these extreme environmental groups and their Congressional advocates claim there was a “backroom” deal between Trump and mining companies in determining the fate of these monuments — ironic because a backroom deal occurred between these environmental groups and Obama in creating the monuments. I believe a Freedom of Information Act request would prove my statement true, because some members of these same groups insinuated such collusion in speaking to my staff. Moreover, Zinke’s review allowed for public comment; Obama’s actions did not.

No one side should have free reign in the discussion of public land use, but we haven’t seen a balanced approach in decades. Had Obama and his special-interest supporters chosen good public process in determining these monuments, the Trump administration would not be reviewing their misdeeds. Obama threw 553.5 million acres of public land into national monuments, nearly twice as much as all previous presidents combined. We should never assume one person in government, given that much power, has acted properly in every case. No presidential action is above review.

Burning Man: Giant jellyfish, pulsating heart and rebuilt Boeing 747 set to dazzle at Nevada desert festival

Work by Ken Feldman, Vasily Klyukin and Peter Hazel among installations on display at leading US contemporary arts extravaganza

One of the largest art installations at Burning Man 2017 will be a recreated Boeing 747 which has been moved in giant pieces from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Oliver Poole
The Independent

The Burning Man festival starts this Sunday and this year’s installations are set to be some of the most outrageous ever with a giant jellyfish, a heart that pulsates in time with the viewer’s heartbeat and a life-size recreation of a Boeing 747 airplane among those to be displayed.

The festival, which draws almost 70,000 people each year to the Nevada desert, distributed £1 million in art grants this year to ensure many new participants will get the chance to join established artists with work on display.

Perhaps the most spectacular, and certainly one of the largest, will be the recreated Boeing 747, which has been moved in giant pieces from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

More than 500 volunteers, including engineers from Boeing and Nasa, have worked since 2015 to not only disassemble the plane, but also add staircases, paintings and other details including day-glo lights to its outsides.

“It started off as a joke when I saw a bike made out of airplane parts at Burning Man and I said, 'Wouldn’t it be great if we made an art form out of a plane?'” said Ken Feldman, the project manager who organised the purchase of the decommissioned 1985 Varig 747.

Another art piece at the festival, now in its 31st year, is the Pulsating Heart by established Russian artist Vasily Klyukin.

For his new interactive installation called the Pulsating Heart, the viewer wears a special bracelet that reads the their pulse. The sculpture then synchronises with the bracelet and starts to light up in time with the heartbeat.

If the bracelet is worn by two people, the sculpture will beat faster and more rapidly.

“I am sure that it will become a notable object at the festival,” Mr Klyukin said, adding that after the festival the work will move to the La Collection Air museum in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The 40-foot high, 60-foot long jellyfish that will also be among the hundreds of art works on display has been created by Nevada artist Peter Hazel. Made out of recycled glass, the work will consist of 1,600 small jellyfish joined together to make the giant's statue.

The event ends every year with the symbolic burning of a wooden man sculpture and of many of the art pieces that had been specially created and displayed on the festival.