August 31, 2012

Environmental groups sue over Cadiz water project

Cadiz Inc. has proposed pumping 16 billion gallons of water per year from beneath land it owns and beyond in the Mojave Desert.


Four environmental groups filed a lawsuit Friday, Aug. 31, against San Bernardino County and an Orange County water district to challenge a controversial groundwater mining project in the Mojave Desert.

The crux of the lawsuit is the question of which agency should serve as lead on the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which would pump 16 billion gallons of groundwater per year from ancient aquifers.

The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society contend the county should have led the environmental review of the project, not the Santa Margarita Water District in Mission Viejo, which has signed on as a future buyer of the water from Cadiz Inc.

The water district is named in the suit for approving the environmental impact report on the project on July 31. The county has 90 days from that date to approve or reject the environmental impact report, and can issue or deny a permit for the project.

The project “is in San Bernardino County, that’s where all the impacts are going to be; they should be in charge, not some Orange County water agency,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said the county has no authority over whether it is the lead agency.

“Santa Margarita claimed lead status before the county had a chance to,” he said. “The county can’t just switch that.”

County lawyers said that historically, once an agency claims lead status, the state doesn’t overturn it, Wert said. The county didn’t challenge the status because if defeated, it would have been locked out of the process, he said.

“This way, at least we have a seat at the table,” Wert said.

Adam Lazar, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, disagreed.
The California Environmental Quality Act says that such a dispute would be submitted to the state Office of Planning and Research for a decision. If defeated, the county would still be the responsible agency, which can give a thumbs-up or down to the environmental impact report, Lazar said.

The groups want the report voided and redone by the county, and they want the county named lead agency.

The project would extract groundwater from an open valley beneath 45,000 acres that Cadiz Inc. owns south of the Marble Mountains, 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms. The area lies between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in eastern San Bernardino County.

The $225 million project would provide water for about 400,000 people served by six water districts throughout California, including Jurupa Community Services District in Riverside County.

Critics say the pumping would cause a drop in the water table that would dry up springs supporting bighorn sheep and other wildlife. They also have raised concerns that it could cause dust storms on nearby dry lake beds, adversely affect air quality, overdraw the water table and alter the flow of groundwater beneath the Mojave Preserve over the 50-year life of the project.

Hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey and elsewhere say Cadiz’s estimates of natural recharge to the aquifer are overstated.

This is the second lawsuit challenging the project. Delaware Tetra Technologies Inc., which operates a brine mining operation at two dry lakes near Cadiz’s property, also is contesting Santa Margarita as the lead agency.

Both lawsuits center on the county’s groundwater management ordinance, designed to protect resources in the desert. The ordinance was passed in 2002, after an earlier version of the Cadiz project was proposed. Metropolitan Water District was a partner on that earlier version but abandoned it amid environmentalists' opposition and cost concerns.

Lazar, the attorney for the environmentalists, said the county violated the ordinance by not setting an acceptable rate of decline for the aquifer or danger levels that would trigger alerts of harm, before the environmental impact report was approved.

BLM declares Burning Man Second Amendment-free zone


The Bureau of Land Management has declared the Burning Man “radical self-expression/self-reliance" community “experiment” in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert a temporary weapons-free zone, GunLeaders Blog reported today. Citing a Department of the Interior “Notice of Temporary Closure and Temporary Restrictions of Specific Uses on Public Lands in Pershing County, NV” appearing in the Federal Register Volume 77, Number 157 (Tuesday, August 14, 2012), the edict mandates “temporary closures and temporary restrictions will be in effect from August 13, 2012 to September 17, 2012.

Proclaiming its authority under 43 CFR 8364.1., and issued by Gene Seidlitz, District Manager, Winnemucca District, the restriction notice declared “The possession of any weapon is prohibited except weapons within motor vehicles passing through the public closure area, without stopping, on the west or east playa roads.

“The prohibitions above shall not apply to county, state, tribal, and Federal law enforcement personnel, or any person authorized by Federal law to possess a weapon," the notice continued. "‘Art projects' that include weapons and are sanctioned by BRC LLC will be permitted after obtaining authorization from the BLM authorized officer.”

“Any person who violates the above rules and restrictions may be tried before a United States Magistrate and fined no more than $1,000, imprisoned for no more than 12 months, or both,” the notice warned, adding “Such violations may also be subject to the enhanced fines provided for at 18 U.S.C. 3571.”

Whether this upsets Burning Man organizers and participants, and there does not appear to be any mention of weapons in the almost-anything-goes gathering’s “rules and regulations,” remains unknown, but there are larger principles at stake here.

First, it’s not like crimes of violence, particularly sexual assault and rape are unheard of there, and Mr. Seidlitz’s edict is silent on any responsibility or duty to protect those he demands be defenseless. His notice does admit “Actions by a few participants at previous events have resulted in law enforcement and public safety incidents similar to those observed in urban areas of similar-size populations,” documenting that he knows people he is disarming may be exposed to physical danger.

Second, where does this guy get off, dictating away the right to keep and bear arms? Who first decided there was a “need” to do this? Who authorized it? What is the approval process? Did it have to go beyond a district manager? What other federal agencies think they have this power? Can any bureaucrat declare himself the boss of you, or does one need to be a certain pay grade?

“If they (think they) can ban guns for Burning Man, essentially a private festival that as far as I can tell has no specific rules of this manner, then DOI can do it for pretty much any reason they want,” Dave Yates, co-founder of GunLeaders Blog observed to Gun Rights Examiner by email.

Indeed. If unaccountable self-anointed masters are allowed to get away with arbitrary rulings, if their demands for kneejerk authority over our unalienable rights are tolerated, then what is to stop them from declaring any place off limits, and extending the time period to whatever interval they choose, that is, what is to stop them from effectively burning the Bill of Rights?

August 23, 2012

Silent Spring After 50 Years

Andrew P. Morriss

This year marks the 50th anniversary of a foundational document in modern environmentalism: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Today, when Carson’s book is often mentioned but rarely read, it is easy to forget how important it was in shaping American attitudes about the environment. Serialized in The New Yorker, featured as a Book of the Month Club selection, given a CBS TV special, and praised by President John F. Kennedy, Silent Spring was a national sensation in the early 1960s. The book led to Carson’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee, which, together with her 1964 death from cancer, established the book’s iconic status and placed Carson on a pedestal as the “mother of the environmental movement.”

It is difficult to justify Silent Spring’s reputation as crusading investigative reporting. Carson was a longtime critic of DDT rather than a scientist who discovered pesticide problems in research. She edited 1940s reports by her boss at the Fish and Wildlife Service, Clarence Cottam, which were critical of DDT’s use to control mosquitoes in marshlands. Indeed, in the anniversary volume I coedited for the Cato Institute, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu report that Carson herself unsuccessfully pitched an article attacking DDT to Reader’s Digest in 1945.

Unfortunately, the legacy of Silent Spring is—at best—mixed. Carson rightly pointed to abuses by government pesticide-spraying programs that ignored private property rights and caused significant harm. But Carson also embraced strands of what University of Maryland economist Robert Nelson has labeled “environmental religion.” Indeed, as Desrochers and Shimizu show, the intellectual “groundwaters” for Silent Spring included sources such as her friend William Vogt’s 1948 best-seller Road to Survival, which praised pests such as tsetse flies and malaria-carrying mosquitoes as “blessings in disguise” for reducing populations in poor countries, whose “greatest national assets” included high death rates. And Carson’s message that chemicals posed an existential threat—she termed pesticides like DDT “biocides”—helped legitimize the long-standing strain of apocalyptic thinking that environmentalists have ever since invoked to justify measures restricting liberty. Indeed, Carson’s original title for the book, Man Against the Earth, embodied the apocalyptic theme.

Carson was not the first to write about the dangers of pesticides, nor was she the first to sound the alarm over environmental issues. As early as 1948 Fairfield Osborne’s Our Plundered Planet, which warned of bird death from pesticide spraying, was a bestseller. Even Carson’s metaphor of a “silent spring” was foreshadowed by a 1946 New Republic article, “Dynamite in DDT,” which reported “the silence of total death” after aerial spraying of a forest in Pennsylvania. Six months before Silent Spring, a major publisher issued Murray Bookchin’s Our Synthetic Environment (although it used the pseudonym Lewis Herber to avoid Bookchin’s radical reputation). In 1959 Robert Rudd published two articles in The Nation that formed the basis for his 1964 book Pesticides and the Living Landscape, which contained many of Carson’s themes. Indeed, Desrochers and Shimizu conclude that Carson’s work was not at all original but “vintage technophobic muckraking in quality literary clothing.” Yet Silent Spring was, and remains, far more important than any of its contemporaries.

There are two reasons for its success. First, when the book came out Carson was established as a major popular American writer. In the forthcoming Cato collection environmental writer Wallace Kaufman notes that Carson’s first books—Under the Sea-Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), and The Edge of the Sea (1955)—lyrically portrayed ocean life to the American public as part of a wider popular literature on the oceans that included Thor Heyerdahl’s description of a trip across the Pacific on a balsa raft, Kon Tiki (1951). These books established her reputation as a gifted writer, opening readers’ eyes to the wonders of the natural world.

Silent Spring was a departure from this work. As Kaufman notes, New Yorker editor Wallace Shawn encouraged her to take on an adversarial role, writing in a letter to her: “After all there are some things one doesn’t have to be objective and unbiased about—one doesn’t condone murder!” Carson embraced the mission she was given, noting that it allowed her to be “pulling no punches.” Although Silent Spring was a work of advocacy, Carson had credibility with the reading public based on her earlier work, a credibility that authors like Bookchin lacked.

Second, Carson’s literary skill allowed her to link her message to deeply held religious themes in American thinking. As Robert Nelson notes, Carson was brought up in the Presbyterian Church—as were other key environmentalists, including John Muir, David Brower, Edward Abbey, and Dave Foreman. In his writings, including The New Holy Wars: Economic versus Environmental Religion, Nelson argues that Presbyterianism’s connections to Calvinism helped shape much American environmental thinking. He quotes environmental historian Mark Stoll: “The moral urgency that animates the environmental movement is also a direct legacy of Calvinism and Puritanism. . . . The activist wing of environmentalism traces its roots through the Puritans directly to God’s holy self-appointed instruments, the committed Calvinists.” Whether consciously or not, Carson connected with this religious legacy; her vision resonated with Americans seeking a spiritual connection with nature. Just as in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, Carson’s tale of rampant poisoning of nature was a morality tale of mankind’s hubris. Indeed, Nelson notes that Carson begins Silent Spring with an Eden-like image of “a town in the heart of America where all life seemed in harmony with its surroundings.” Like the Book of Revelation, Carson offered an apocalyptic vision of the consequences of that hubris—the vision of a spring when “no birds sang” and children “would be stricken suddenly while at play and die within a few hours” as a result of man’s arrogant efforts to assume a God-like role in creation. Although most Americans in the early 1960s still believed in what Nelson terms the economic religion of progress, the combination of rapid social change after World War II and the nuclear arms race made many receptive to an apocalyptic message.

Carson’s reputation, writing skill, and connection with deep religious themes in American life thus positioned Silent Spring to have a major impact on Americans’ thinking about the environment. Unfortunately its message was deeply flawed.

Although today writers often portray her as a scientist, Carson had only a master’s degree, working professionally as a popular science writer for the federal government and as a freelance writer. Measured against the scientific standards of her day, her work is deficient. In particular, three important flaws mar Carson’s argument and persist in much environmental thinking.

First, as an advocate, Carson made no effort at a balanced presentation. She ignored important evidence— including evidence that she must have known about—that contradicted her story. For example, Carson was active in the Audubon Society and served on its board of directors. Audubon conducted a regular Christmas bird census count across the United States. Carson surely knew not only that the census failed to show declining populations of many of the birds she discussed, but also that even those with declining populations began their declines well before the introduction of organic pesticides. This unwillingness to consider evidence that does not fit “the narrative” remains a problem for environmentalists today, as the “Climategate” emails illustrate in the debate over climate change.

Second, Carson embraced the ideas of a cancer expert, Dr. William Hueper, who did not consider tobacco use a significant factor in cancer incidence. While most Americans today would be skeptical of the credentials of a scientist who denied such a link, there was considerable controversy over the issue in the 1950s, and so Hueper’s position was not ridiculous. Yet despite the controversy and significant public discussion of tobacco’s impact, Carson paid no attention to the effect of increasing smoking rates on cancer incidence, instead associating all increases in cancer with chemical use. In the period leading up to the publication of the 1964 Surgeon General’s report Smoking and Health, ignoring the topic could only have been a deliberate choice. Failing to even acknowledge such an important alternative explanation undercuts any claim that Carson was presenting “science” in Silent Spring.

Similarly, Carson did not adjust her cancer numbers for differences in life expectancy or declines in other causes of death. Between 1900 and 1958 Americans’ life expectancy rose from 47.3 to 69.6 years. Of course more Americans were dying of cancer in 1958 than in 1900 because many of those who might have died of cancer in 1900 died of something else before they had a chance for a cancer to develop. Similar oversights remain important for environmentalists today.

Third, Carson paid little attention to the benefits of chemical pesticides. These were (and are) significant. One key benefit was the vast increase in agricultural productivity that pesticides allowed, making food cheaper and more widely available. Another was disease control, with DDT in particular saving millions of people from malaria and other insect-borne diseases. This was a key factor in the presentation of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to DDT’s discoverer, Dr. Paul Müller. Moreover, most of the new pesticides like DDT were substitutes for dangerous arsenical pesticides in widespread use before World War II. And substituting chemicals for labor not only freed people from backbreaking farm work but helped the environment by limiting the need to plow to control weeds, which reduces erosion.

There were serious abuses of chemical pesticides in the 1950s and early 1960s, often funded by government agencies on missions to eradicate pests. Carson rightly pointed out the dangers these mass spraying programs posed to the environment. But, like modern environmentalists confronted with destructive government programs, her remedy was more government, not greater respect for landowners’ property rights. In this, Silent Spring marked an important turning point away from earlier environmental writers like Aldo Leopold, who emphasized development of a “land ethic” and attention to incentives over coercion in A Sand County Almanac. While there are certainly statist tendencies in Leopold and other early writers, those writers paid much more attention to changing hearts and minds than to creating bureaucracies. After Silent Spring, that strand of American environmental thinking vanished for decades.

One of the legacies of Silent Spring was the federalization of environmental law. Carson’s efforts and untimely death helped catalyze a movement to restrict the use of chemical pesticides, including DDT. Despite all the heat and controversy the campaign against DDT generated, few chemical manufacturers mourned its loss, as DDT was cheap and unprotected by patents. Chemical companies much preferred their more lucrative—and often more hazardous—alternative products. What they did not want was a patchwork of state-level regulation of their products. Thus pesticide manufacturers embraced federal regulation as a means of preempting state regulatory efforts. Silent Spring thus deserves some of the credit (or blame) for the conversion of environmental law from a matter largely left to state governments in 1960 to one that Richard Nixon happily federalized in the early 1970s. Today’s environmentalists ought to revere Nixon as a hero, since he not only created the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order but also signed several major environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970. Indeed, environmental regulation fit nicely into the Nixon agenda of greater federal control of many aspects of American life, from drug prohibition to wage and price controls.

In his contribution to the Cato volume, federalism scholar Jonathan Adler terms the 1970s’ federalization of pesticides the creation of a “broad, untargeted regulatory structure” rather than an effort to “match federal efforts to truly national problems.” Moreover, the new federal regulatory structure was “overly centralized and inflexible.” Environmental pressure groups obtained a place at the table in Washington, but they joined, rather than displaced, the existing special interests from the agricultural and chemical industries. Federalizing regulation of pesticides, as with federalization of environmental law generally, served to shift government interventions to a location far from most citizens, where decisions were made behind closed doors.

This may in part account for Silent Spring’s continued iconic status. The first efforts against mass spraying programs were trespass suits against the government agencies. The courts rejected these, finding that the government’s claim to be upholding the public interest trumped landowners’ property rights. Rebuffed by the courts, antispraying activists turned to a struggle for control of the federal government that was funding the programs. Their victory over DDT was a key early victory by environmental organizations, and contributes to the treatment of Silent Spring as holy writ rather than as a dated, flawed—if extraordinarily well-written—piece of advocacy. That in turn has led to bitter resistance to the use of DDT to save lives in Africa and Asia. Despite mounting evidence—detailed by anti-malaria campaigners Donald Roberts and Richard Tren both in the Cato volume and their book The Excellent Powder (2010)—that indoor spraying of DDT is an essential tool against malaria with few environmental effects, Western environmental groups have fought for decades to deny it to developing countries to use against malarial mosquitoes.

Unlike many of her contemporaries among early environmental writers, Carson never explicitly advocated ending disease-control efforts although, shockingly, quite a few did. Nonetheless, Carson’s failure to credit the public-health benefits of pesticides is a major failing in the book, since the Silent Spring-inspired anti-DDT crusade led to the deaths of millions in Africa and Asia.

Carson never advocated a total ban on pesticides, calling instead for restrictions on their use. She was undoubtedly right that there was excessive pesticide use—partly because expanding New Deal agricultural subsidy programs pushed U.S. farmers toward evermore intensive agriculture, partly because the federal government subsidized aerial spraying for pest control. Carson’s main solution was a proposal for expanded biological controls of pests through the introduction of species that prey on harmful insects. As conservation biologist Nathan Gregory notes in the Cato volume, this was a solution “as rife with hubris as the technological solutions Carson condemns.” Indeed today the deliberate introduction of invasive species would be viewed by most environmentalists and biologists as problematic at best and catastrophic at worst. Gregory points out that Carson does not deserve blame for her failure to anticipate two decades of development of understanding of conservation biology that undermined her proposed approach. But today’s environmentalists can be held accountable for their continued advocacy of unrealistic alternatives.

From wind farms to biofuels, environmentalists today are just as likely to embrace environmentally damaging and ineffective solutions as Rachel Carson was. Ironically, wind farms today may pose a greater threat to bird populations than pesticides ever did, and misguided U.S. efforts to force domestic production of corn-based ethanol have played havoc with groundwater supplies and soil quality throughout the Midwest. Despite their nominal commitment to “science,” many environmentalists embrace the Rachel Carson notion of science: a popularized version of ideas whose real-life complexity defies simple solutions to problems. Moreover, like Carson, they often advocate government programs whose unintended consequences can be as deleterious as the problems they are intended to solve.

Man’s interaction with his environment is a complex subject, one we are only beginning to understand. Unfortunately modern environmentalism too often focuses on only a fraction of those interactions and turns too hastily to statist solutions. Had Carson written a book like her first three rather than a polemic, she would have produced a careful and thoughtful work that presented the complexity of the environment, incorporated the readily available data on bird populations she ignored, adjusted her cancer statistics for the increase in life expectancies, paid attention to tobacco’s role, and been as critical of invasive species-based solutions as she was of chemical ones. That book might have launched a different environmental movement from the one that now claims her as its intellectual mother.

Rachel Carson was uniquely positioned in the early 1960s to affect the future direction of American environmentalism, and it is unfortunate that she chose the path she did. Of course a careful, thoughtful weighing of the health and environmental benefits of pesticide use that took into account the lives saved in Africa and Asia and the benefits of no-till agriculture on soil erosion might not have sold quite as many copies as a sensationalist portrayal of a spring without songbirds.

What might such an alternative environmentalism look like? It would value the lives saved from the ravages of malaria, celebrating human beings as what Julian Simon termed “the ultimate resource.” It would counsel against massive government interventions like the gypsy-moth and fire-ant eradication programs Carson decried, focusing instead on developing incentives for landowners to encourage responsible behavior. It would emphasize local knowledge of particular ecosystems, not grand pronouncements by bureaucrats from Washington. It would emphasize the need to understand tradeoffs, not proclaim absolutes.

August 21, 2012

Pioneertown Awarded Grant Funds for Water Improvements

By Ashley Quintero
Cactus Thorns

SAN BERNARDINO, CA – The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted today to accept nearly $400,000 in Prop. 84 grant funds, taking another step forward in bringing clean water to Pioneertown.

In order to receive the funds, the board voted to give the Special Districts Department signature authority to receive the funds. Special Districts will work in conjunction with the State of California through the Division of Drinking Water and Environmental Management to improve the quality of water for residents. Following the Landers earthquake in 1992, the quality of water in the region degraded and became undrinkable.

Supervisor Derry and his staff have diligently attended to various matters of concern for Pioneertown residents and ensuring access to a stable and safe source of water has been a priority of his office.

“Though we are not at the finish line, we have reached a point in the process where we can see light at the other end of the tunnel,” said Supervisor Derry. “I am bullish on the future and long-term sustainability of Pioneertown.”

August 19, 2012

National parks face severe funding crunch

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post

Fredericksburg, Va. — Chatham Manor, the elegant 241-year-old Georgian house that served as a Union headquarters during the Civil War, remains a must-see stop on tours of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. But the grounds are not as they once were. The gardens are overgrown, and the greenhouse has broken windows and rotting wood frames.

The park’s superintendent, Russell Smith, noted that the family that occupied the home in the 1920s “had nine or 10 gardeners. I have, like, half a gardener.”

After more than a decade of scrimping and deferring maintenance and construction projects — and absorbing a 6 percent budget cut in the past two years — the signs of strain are beginning to surface at national parks across the country. The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which curves along the spine of the easternmost range of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina, has a $385 million backlog of projects, mainly in road maintenance, and has been unable to fill 75 vacant positions since 2003. For the past three years, New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument has lacked the money to hire a specialist to protect its archaeological ruins and resources.

Jonathan B. Jarvis, the National Park Service director, said in an interview that his employees have been “entrepreneurial” in devising ways to cope with rising costs on a fixed budget.

“But we’re kind of running out of ideas at some point here,” Jarvis said. For years, the Park Service has supported day-to-day operations by taking money from its maintenance and land acquisition budget, he said. “The challenge is, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Annual attendance at national parks has remained about the same, though visits through July this year total 201 million, up 1.5 percent from last year. Park managers say they are alarmed at the prospect of both next year’s budget and a possible 8 percent across-the-board cut if negotiators fail to reach a budget deal by January. The president’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal — which was largely adopted by the House Appropriations Committee — would cut 218 full-time jobs, or 763 seasonal employees.

Phil Francis, superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said he has lost a third of his permanent maintenance crew in the past 11 years. Staff members have gotten “a few visitor complaints” about conditions in the park, ranging from its restrooms to its overlooks.

“Of course we know these things,” he said. “It’s a challenge. We do the best we can and make sure the impacts are as minimal as possible.”

Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said policymakers face a critical decision as the park system approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016. A major influx of funds could mobilize public support for the system, he said. Without it, he said, conditions at the parks will continue deteriorating and visits could drop sharply.

“It’s clear that inadequate federal funding is the number one threat to the future of the national parks and the national park idea,” Kiernan said. “We’re at a crossroads of historic importance here.”

Of the 397 park units, 158 have “friends groups” that help raise private funds. The congressionally chartered National Park Foundation has raised up to $150 million annually for parks in concert with those organizations in recent years, and it hopes to help increase their number to 200 by 2016. But those efforts provide only a fraction of the system’s $2.6 billion annual budget.

There was a push at the end of the George W. Bush administration to ease the Park Service’s fiscal crunch and mobilize private support at the same time, which added more than $300 million to the service’s operations budget between 2007 and 2008. But that momentum stalled in the face of the recession.

National parks continue to enjoy significant bipartisan support, both from the presidential candidates and on Capitol Hill. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney has spoken during the campaign of how he “fell in love with the land in America” during family trips through national parks in a Rambler station wagon, and in a statement to The Washington Post, he described himself as “a passionate advocate of our national parks.”

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), who co-chairs the bipartisan Congressional National Parks Caucus, said that he has lobbied the administration and his colleagues to restore park funding but that he’s “not optimistic” the current trajectory will reverse itself. “It’s just the blind zeal for cuts in the discretionary part of the budget, regardless of the consequences,” Kind said.

Since fixed costs represent such a high portion of park budgets — 92 percent for Fredericksburg and 88 percent for the Blue Ridge Parkway, for example — an 8 percent cut as part of sequestration could prompt closures in as many as 150 parks, according to estimates by the conservation association.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, said the Park Service should eliminate all new land acquisitions and reevaluate its mission. The administration’s fiscal 2013 budget includes $59 million for parkland acquisition.

“Why don’t we prioritize and realize the federal government cannot print money fast enough to do everything that needs to get done?” Bishop said.

In many ways, the parks’ predicament is the result of federal decisions over the past 11 years to shift money to the operations budget at the expense of everything else. In 2001, operations constituted 64 percent of total park appropriations; in the 2013 budget, they account for 87 percent. This has left the system with an $11.4 billion backlog.

“Congress has emphasized the operations budget because it’s what keeps the doors open,” said Denis Galvin, who served as the National Park Service’s deputy director from 1985 to 1989 and from 1996 to 2002.

In Fredericksburg, the fiscal constraints are obvious. Smith has a list of construction and maintenance projects he would like to complete that total more than $42 million, including removing trees that threaten the earthen fortifications troops built during the Civil War and the demolition of non-historic houses on the park’s battlefields.

Smith said this is “the worst” budget crisis he has experienced during his 40-year-long Park Service career. “We’ve pulled out all the stops, and there’s nowhere to go anymore.”

John and Diane Anderson, retirees from Long Island, Va., south of Lynchburg, listened attentively as ranger Becky Oakes spoke movingly of the slaughter during the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, in which seven waves of Union soldiers died in an unsuccessful attempt to pierce Confederate lines at the Sunken Road.

Reciting by heart the words of Union soldiers who tugged on the sleeves of their comrades headed into battle, Oakes said, “It’s no use, boys; we’ve tried that. Nothing can stand there; it’s only for the dead.”

Diane Anderson praised Oakes but said of Chatham Manor, “That really needs to be refurbished. . . . The garden’s overgrown and not kept up.”

Oakes, a history major at Gettysburg College who plans to pursue a career with the Park Service after she graduates next year, exemplifies the system’s budget woes. Although she was hired as a seasonal employee, budget constraints meant she had to work as an unpaid intern until Aug. 12, when money came through for a promotion.

“It’s scary going in, knowing this is what you want to do, but anything can happen to the budget,” Oakes said. “And these are factors beyond your control.”

August 17, 2012

Who Does The Government Intend To Shoot?

By Major General Jerry Curry, USA (Ret.)
Daily Caller

The Social Security Administration (SSA) confirms that it is purchasing 174 thousand rounds of hollow point bullets to be delivered to 41 locations in major cities across the U.S. No one has yet said what the purpose of these purchases is, though we are led to believe that they will be used only in an emergency to counteract and control civil unrest. Those against whom the hollow point bullets are to be used — those causing the civil unrest — must be American citizens; since the SSA has never been used overseas to help foreign countries maintain control of their citizens.

What would be the target of these 174, 000 rounds of hollow point bullets? It can’t simply be to control demonstrators or rioters. Hollow point bullets are so lethal that the Geneva Convention does not allow their use on the battle field in time of war. Hollow point bullets don’t just stop or hurt people, they penetrate the body, spread out, fragment and cause maximum damage to the body’s organs. Death often follows.

Potentially each hollow nose bullet represents a dead American. If so, why would the U.S. government want the SSA to kill 174,000 of our citizens, even during a time of civil unrest? Or is the purpose to kill 174,000 of the nation’s military and replace them with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) special security forces, forces loyal to the Administration, not to the Constitution?

All my life I’ve handled firearms. When a young boy growing up on my father’s farm in Pennsylvania Dad’s first rule of firearms training was, “Never point a gun at someone, in fun or otherwise, unless you intend to shoot them. If you shoot someone, shoot to kill.” I’ve never forgotten his admonition. It stayed with me through my Boy Scout training, when I enlisted in the army as a Private to fight in the Korea
War, during my days as a Ranger and Paratrooper and throughout my thirty-four year military career.

If this were only a one time order of ammunition, it could easily be dismissed. But there is a pattern here. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has ordered 46,000 rounds of hollow point ammunition. Notice that all of these purchases are for the lethal hollow nose bullets. These bullets are not being purchased and stored for squirrel or coyote hunting. This is serious ammunition manufactured to be used for serious purposes.

In the war in Iraq, our military forces expended approximately 70 million rounds per year. In March DHS ordered 750 million rounds of hollow point ammunition. It then turned around and ordered an additional 750 million rounds of miscellaneous bullets including some that are capable of penetrating walls. This is enough ammunition to empty five rounds into the body of every living American citizen. Is this something we and the Congress should be concerned about? What’s the plan that requires so many dead Americans, even during times of civil unrest? Has Congress and the Administration vetted the plan in public.

I fear that Congress won’t take these ammunition purchases seriously until they are all led from Capitol Hill in handcuffs. Why buy all this ammunition unless you plan to use it. Unknown to Congress, Does DHS plan to declare war on some country? Shouldn’t Congress hold hearings on why the Administration is stockpiling this ammunition all across the nation? How will it be used; what are the Administration’s plans?

Obama is a deadly serious, persistent man. Once he focuses on an object, he pursues it to the end. What is his focus here? All of these rounds of ammunition can only be used to kill American citizens, though there is enough ammunition being ordered to kill, in addition to every American citizen, also every Iranian, Syrian or Mexican. There is simply too much of it. And this much ammunition can’t be just for training, there aren’t that many weapons and “shooters” in the U.S. to fire it. Perhaps it is to be used to arm illegal immigrants?

We have enough military forces to maintain law and order in the U.S. even during times of civil unrest.

We have local police, backed up by each state’s National Guard, backed up by the Department of Defense. So in addition to all these forces why does DHS need its own private army? Why do the SSA, NOAA and other government agencies need to create their own civilian security forces armed with hollow nose bullets?

Were I the JCS, and if I wasn’t already fully briefed on this matter, I’d stop the purchase of hollow point bullets, ask the secretary of Defense why all this ammunition is being purchased and spread around the country? If I got answers like the ones Congress got during the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious – I’d start tracking all ammunition deliveries nationwide to find out what organizations and units are using them, for what purpose and, if it is not constitutional, prepare to counteract whatever it is that they are doing.

This is a deadly serious business. I hope I’m wrong, but something smells rotten. And If the Congress isn’t going to do its duty and investigate this matter fully, the military will have to protect the Constitution, the nation, and our citizens.

Jerry Curry is a decorated combat veteran, Army Aviator, Paratrooper, and Ranger, who for nearly forty years has served his country both in the military and as a Presidential political appointee.

August 13, 2012

Out Of Touch President Obama Fiddles While Tombstone, AZ Burns

Ralph Benko, Contributor

Welcome to the Wild West, 2012 style. The Feds to Tombstone: “If you want to fix your water line, better lawyer up and talk to President Obama.”

The left is attacking Mitt Romney as “out of touch.” But the left’s own champion, President Obama, is truly the out of touch candidate. The U.S. Forest Service — of which the president is ultimate boss — is preventing, on the flimsiest of excuses, Tombstone Arizona from rebuilding its water pipeline. Obama, conniving, is putting Tombstone, a fixture of American history, in mortal danger.

Tombstone was the site of the “Showdown at the OK Corral.” It was a silver mining boomtown and very Wild West: over a dozen saloons, 6 gambling halls, a very cosmopolitan city. Today Tombstone is a cultural attraction with 1500 residents and tens of thousands of visitors.

But now the U.S. Forest Service is building a tomb for Tombstone. A massive forest fire in 2011 wiped out the vegetation in Coronado National Park, wherein lies Tombstone’s waterworks — which were destroyed by the following torrential rains.

“I sat on the road in my car and watched the fire,” recalls Nancy Sosa, Tombstone native, its archivist, mother of five. “My kids and I were between Tombstone and Sierra Vista, about 26 miles away from the fire, watching in shock. You don’t grow up in Tombstone not knowing where your water comes from. Water is the most precious thing in the desert.”

The ensuing monsoon damage was severe but readily fixable. Except that Tombstone’s water sources are surrounded by a designated wilderness area. Their water was privately owned and therefore exempted by President Teddy Roosevelt from national forest status … and, thus, exempted from the Wilderness Act. That Act applies only to national forest, not private property. And yet, the U.S. Forest service takes the position that Tombstone needs its permission to bring in tractors and bulldozers to clear the rubble throttling its water supplies.

Tombstone cannot survive long on the tiny wells located in town or on the small amount of water it temporarily was able to hand patch through its water main. It needs to use regular earth-moving equipment to repair its lines. As Sosa explains, “you have boulders the size of motorcycles breaking your pipeline, and other boulders and uprooted trees mangling it… the water is buried by 6 to 15 feet of boulders, trees, rocks.”

Coronado is not an exceptionally delicate ecology. Fire and monsoons have had far more impact than would a few tractors and bulldozers. And yet, the Forest Service forbids Tombstone to bring in crews with earth-moving machinery.

Soon after the fire Sosa and City Clerk Manager George Barnes asked the Forest Service what, if anything, was required to bring in a crew with mechanized equipment. A Forest Service representative emailed her back the next day that they had to look into the ownership as to what the city was entitled to.

Tombstone owns the springs outright and has a clear easement for its water pipe. Its ownership is a public record. It can be looked up in minutes, not months. But the Forest Service took three months (reminded almost daily by Ms. Sosa and Mr. Barnes) to respond.

The eventual reply? According to Sosa, the Forest Service took the position that Tombstone didn’t own anything and therefore the Service would not permit it to bring in equipment. “Didn’t own anything” anticipates “You didn’t build that” in its contempt for private property.

Tombstone faced (and faces) a risk of burning to the ground and has good reason to believe that the Wilderness Act does not apply to its property. So its Mayor took a crew with earth-moving machinery into the mountains. The Forest Service’s rangers met them there, stopped them, and told them that they’d better “lawyer up and call President Obama.” Soon after, Mayor Jack Henderson, City Clerk Manager George Barnes, Sosa, and the work crew met with the Service. The Service had copies of all of Tombstone’s deeds and documentation but gave the officials a polite runaround.

What was the government’s reasoning for refusal to accommodate the lawful claims of the citizens of Tombstone? According to a New York Times report , “Jim M. Upchurch, the forest supervisor at Coronado, issued a split decision: bulldozers and tractors would be allowed in the lowest of the damaged areas to move truck-size boulders that had crashed onto the pipe, but they could not be used elsewhere. ‘We think there are other options to protecting your water source without being so disruptive on the environment,’ Mr. Upchurch said as he hiked Miller Canyon, where the repairs were under way.”

Translation: Let Tombstone burn. Tombstone is represented in litigation by the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation which is seeking to protect “states and their subdivisions from federal regulations that prevent them from using and enjoying their property in order to fulfill the essential functions of protecting public health and safety.” Goldwater’s Nick Dranias told the New York Times: “’We’re not asking to build a superhighway, or to cut a path where there has never been a path…. We just want to be left alone to repair and restore fully the water system that Tombstone is entitled to maintain.’”

The Forest Service’s motto is “Caring for the Land and Serving People.” Its own Guiding Principles include:

We are good neighbors who respect private property rights.

We strive for quality and excellence in everything we do and are sensitive to the effects of our decisions on people and resources.

We strive to meet the needs of our customers in fair, friendly, and open ways.

High-sounding principles. Forest Service Chief Thomas L. Tidwell, and Associate Chief Mary Wagner, really shouldn’t let their motto become “Caring for the Land, the People be Damned.” To condemn Tombstone to the flames because “We think there are other options to protecting your water source” smacks as arbitrary, capricious, and by no means neighborly. It’s peculiar that these “options” go unspecified.

President Obama, on June 29th, in Colorado Springs after viewing wildfire damage, made a typically inspirational call-out: “We’ve got to make sure that we have each other’s backs. And that spirit is what you’re seeing in terms of volunteers, in terms of firefighters, in terms of government officials. Everybody is pulling together to try to deal with this situation.”

Oh really? Obama could get the Forest Service to permit Tombstone to fix its waterworks with one phone call. If he doesn’t make that call his claim that “We’ve got to make sure that we have each other’s backs” shows as a pious fraud. And if Tombstone burns to the ground (which happened twice before the water line was installed) the president may be seen as a modern Nero who fiddled while Tombstone burned.

The left paints Mitt Romney as out of touch for the occasional harmless gaffe. But if Barack Obama lets the Forest Service arbitrarily, perhaps even illegally, refuse to allow Tombstone to rebuild its water lines, Obama just might end up reading, by firelight, his own political tombstone: Barack Obama, Out of Touch.

August 6, 2012

Is this Mojave water project worth the risk?

A private company's plan to tap a desert aquifer needs more study before going forward.

Los Angeles Times

The search for reliable water supplies for Southern California has been going on for as long as Americans have lived here, and continues today. State officials are examining a proposal to draw water from the Sacramento River and ship it to this part of California, bypassing the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and its shaky levees. Los Angeles officials are also trying to balance the water needs of the city against their obligations to hold down dust in the Owens Valley, which has long supplied much of Los Angeles' water and whose brackish lake dried up in the process. The debates over water often are complicated and weighted by competing and compelling interests.

But all water projects are not the same, and one that deserves special scrutiny is a recent proposal to draw thousands of acre-feet of water out of an aquifer that sits beneath the Mojave Desert and send it to users throughout the region, especially the Santa Margarita Water District, which supplies part of Orange County. The water district last week gave the project a boost by approving its environmental impact report.

That's the latest step in a long march. The project has been pursued for more than a decade by Keith Brackpool, an influential Southern California businessman (Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once worked for Brackpool, who also served as a key water advisor to Gov. Gray Davis). If approved, it would clear the way for Brackpool and his company, Cadiz Inc., to sell enough water every year to serve 100,000 homes. Cadiz could make $1 billion to $2 billion over the 50-year span of the deal.

Some may flinch at the philosophical implications of a private investor selling water that accumulated for centuries beneath his land to public agencies for his own profit. But for better or worse, that bridge was long ago crossed. The farmers of the Owens Valley, for instance, sold their water rights to representatives of Los Angeles in the early 20th century, and that water continues to provide this city with much of its supply.

What makes the Cadiz project unique are two factors: its size and its location. Selling 50,000 to 75,000 acre-feet of water a year, as the company proposes to do, is an extraordinary exchange of water. It would require the construction of a 43-mile pipeline, and it would pump more water out of the ground than any previous private project in California. More important, the water would be drawn from the ancient aquifer that has undergirded the Mojave Desert from time immemorial. No one knows precisely how quickly that aquifer replenishes. If the Cadiz project draws water faster than rain and snow can refill it, the aquifer will dry up — and the desert will die.

Will that happen? Cadiz's experts say no, that the aquifer can sustain the anticipated withdrawals and replenish annually. But other experts take a far more conservative view of how much water can safely be drawn from the aquifer. The gap between Cadiz's estimates of the replenishment rate and those of the government is staggering and of great consequence: The Cadiz estimates are three to 16 times higher than those of the U.S. Geological Survey and other experts, according to the National Park Service. If the USGS is right and Cadiz is wrong, the project would rapidly destroy the aquifer.

Recognizing the potentially grave implications for the Mojave, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote this year to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to urge his department to perform an assessment of the project's likely impact on the ecology of the region. That's a prudent proposal. Salazar should heed it.

Yes, federal intervention could slow this deal, which Rancho Santa Margarita and Cadiz understandably are eager to get underway. But the range of the estimates in play here — and the clear interest that Cadiz and Rancho Santa Margarita have in accepting best-case scenarios — suggest that an objective agency with a broader perspective should conduct its own analysis.

It may be that Cadiz's estimates will stand up to scrutiny; if so, this deal could provide precious water to areas that need it. Before it's allowed to go forward, however, neutral experts need to give it their best appraisal.

August 3, 2012

BLM signs off on water pipeline, but spares Snake Valley


Federal regulators have signed off on a plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada, but they left out a valley on the Utah border where the project has met stiff resistance.

After roughly seven years of review, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials are recommending access across federal land for water pipes and power lines extending roughly 300 miles from Las Vegas to Spring Valley in White Pine County.

But the Southern Nevada Water Authority would not be allowed to extend its multibillion-dollar pipeline into neighboring Snake Valley under the preferred alternative set for release today as part of BLM's review of the project.

Nevertheless, water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy said she was "delighted" to have federal support to build most of the pipeline if necessary.

"This project is now sitting out there as a safety net if the (Colorado) river really goes south," Mulroy said. "We now have the necessary water resources and the rights of way to protect Southern Nevada."

In May, Nevada's top water regulator granted the authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from Spring Valley and three other watersheds in Lincoln and White Pine counties. When stretched through reuse, that is enough water to serve more than 300,000 Las Vegas Valley homes.

Critics of the project argue that large-scale pumping will devastate the environment and the livelihoods of rural residents - all while producing too little groundwater to do Southern Nevada much good.

The authority seeks up to 51,000 acre-feet more in Snake Valley, but those applications have been stalled by a lingering rift between Nevada and Utah.

In 2009, officials in the two states reached a water-sharing agreement for the valley, which straddles the state line west of Great Basin National Park. But the pact, struck after four years of closed-door negotiations, never took effect because Utah never signed it.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the amount of available water in the basin, the BLM had no choice but to exclude Snake Valley from its recommendation, Mulroy said.

She accused Utah of "bad-faith bargaining and inaction" that has restricted Nevada's ability to manage its own water resources. If the two states cannot settle their differences soon, she said, Nevada might be forced to take the dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Utah rancher and pipeline foe Cecil Garland called BLM's exclusion of Snake Valley a "pyrrhic and possibly temporary victory" that won't protect it from the impacts of excessive pumping in neighboring basins.

Once Las Vegas water officials commit billions of dollars to build the pipeline, they will have to keep pursuing water rights in Snake and other valleys farther north in Nevada to justify the expense, Garland said in a statement. "If they build it, they will fill it."

Water authority officials insist they have not committed to the project, which could wind up costing more than $3 billion for construction and another $12 billion in financing and inflationary costs.

The plan dates back almost 25 years, when Southern Nevada water officials filed more than 100 applications for unappropriated water rights across rural Nevada.

Back then, the pipeline was meant to supply growth in the Las Vegas Valley. Now it is being touted as a backup supply for a community that gets 90 percent of its water from an overtaxed Colorado River and a shrinking Lake Mead.

Because of the stakes involved, Mulroy said, the rural groundwater already granted for the pipeline is justification enough, regardless of the cost.

"When the time comes, the question won't be can we afford to build it; it will be can we afford not to build it," she said.

But local conservationist Rob Mrowka, from the Center for Biological Diversity, said that local water customers already are reeling from price hikes leveled by the authority to help pay down $2.5 billion in construction debt. A $15 billion pipeline would be a "financial catastrophe" for the community, he said.

"There are other ways to ensure a livable and sustainable Las Vegas Valley," he said, namely by controlling growth and stepping up conservation efforts to further reduce per-capita water use.

The BLM's recommendation for rights of way is included in a final environmental impact statement for the so-called Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project, which officially comes out today with the publication of a notice in the Federal Register.

The document will be available for public review and comment at least until Oct. 1. Sometime after that, the secretary of the interior will issue a record of decision, based on BLM's findings, that spells out exactly where the water authority will be allowed to build its water pipes and power lines.

Opponents still hold out hope that the interior secretary will reject the project outright. If that doesn't happen, they probably will take their fight against the pipeline rights of way to federal court.

A legal challenge is already under way in state court seeking to overturn the decision in May that granted the authority water for its pipeline.

Mulroy has little doubt that more lawsuits are on the way. She never expected this to be easy. "We're just going to have to keep fighting," she said.

Those seeking to stop the pipeline have vowed to do the same.

August 2, 2012

BLM may close Mojave Desert trails

9.3 million acres of the western Mojave Desert
may be permanently closed to off-road recreation
by environmentalists and the courts.

Kris Reilly, Staff Writer
Victor Valley Daily Press

LUCERNE VALLEY • The public will have a chance to comment Saturday on a Bureau of Land Management plan that could prohibit the use of off-road trails throughout the Mojave Desert.

Some of the estimated 5,000 miles of remote dirt roads and trails in the region could be permanently closed to public access.

The Desert Advisory Council (a volunteer citizens’ advisory group) will hold an open house from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the Lucerne Valley Community Center and will provide maps of the local areas in question.

“Overwhelmingly, most citizens who come to our meetings are concerned that road closures are escalating” said Dinah Shumway, chair of a DAC task group holding the meeting. “(But) I suspect we’re going to have people on both sides, people for closing roads and people for keeping them open.”

The DAC is gathering community input about revisions to the West Mojave Plan, a BLM policy which aims to protect habitat for the desert tortoise and other wildlife on federal land. Environmental groups sued the BLM, alleging that the plan favored off-highway vehicle use over habitat conservation, and a judge ruled last year that the BLM would have to reevaluate the trail system.

Acting BLM Barstow Field Office Manager Mickey Quillman said meetings like Saturday’s will give the BLM a chance to get public input before making the revisions.

“The people have areas they like to go to for recreation, or areas that they are concerned about,” Quillman said. “This meeting will be mainly a fact-finding, informational meeting, and that information will come back to us.”

The West Mojave Plan affects 9.3 million acres in the western Mojave Desert, which includes the greater Victor Valley. The plan will not directly affect designated off-highway vehicle zones such as the Johnson Valley or Stoddard Wells OHV areas, but it could affect trails leading to and from those areas. Residential dirt roads will not be closed.

Quillman said this particular meeting would focus mainly on nearby areas — including Juniper Flats and Wonder Valley — but he said anyone is welcome to also submit information and opinions on trails outside of the immediate local area.

The Lucerne Valley Community Center is located at 33187 Old Woman Springs Road (Highway 247), just west of Pioneer Park.

Navy prefers Johnson Valley for Marine base growth

By Kurt Schauppner
Hi-Desert Star

MCAGCC — The final environmental statement for a proposed expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center suggests growing the installation by about 146,667 acres to the west and 21,304 acres to the south.

If approved, the plan would close 57 percent of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area to the public.

The alternative also foresees damage to the local desert tortoise population.

The intent of the preferred alternative, according to the Department of the Navy report, is to allow the Marines to train on a large scale while providing restricted public access to a portion of the acquired public lands in Johnson Valley.

It allows for two Marine Expeditionary Brigade training exercises, lasting 24 days each, every year.

The 146,667 acres of Johnson Valley property included in the proposed expansion would be divided into two sections.

The larger section, 108,530 acres, would be exclusively for military use. Marine expeditionary brigades would use the land for exercises and live-fire training. In some cases, they would use ordnance with explosive charges.

The smaller section, 38,137 acres, would be open for restricted public access when training is not taking place. During exercise periods, about 60 days a year, the section would be closed to public use.

Only weaponry that does not have an explosive charge would be used in this area.

Two locations within the restricted public access area, each measuring 984 feet by 984 feet, would be permanently closed to the public year-round.

The Navy document notes this plan would cause significant impacts to land use, recreation and air space that can’t be mitigated.

The military’s training program is not compatible with the federal government’s Johnson Valley OHV Area Management Plan, the environmental statement acknowledges.

Training activities also could cause the deaths of between 645 and 3,769 desert tortoises over the life of the project; between 503 and 834 of those would be in the acquisition study areas, the report noted.

It called the deaths of the tortoises, a species designated as threatened by the federal government, “significant and unmitigatable.”

Johnson Valley residents fire back

The Homestead Valley Community Council sent packages with protest letters to 19 federal legislators opposing the Marine base expansion into Johnson Valley.

“Two months for air-ground combat, 10 months for public access not workable,” is the headline on a news release the council issued about its campaign.

The council is a group representing the community associations in Johnson Valley, Landers, Yucca Mesa and Flamingo Heights.

“We think shared use of Johnson Valley between the military and the public is doomed to end in the closure of this immense land to public use, due to the very size of it and cost of managing it,” the letter reads.

San Bernardino County Supervisors Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt wrote their own letter urging the Navy to expand the base eastward, into the Wonder Valley area, rather than in Johnson Valley.

The Homestead Community Council asks legislators to urge the Navy to follow the board’s recommendation: “Please heed Supervisors Mitzelfelt and Derry where they urge base expansion to the east, not into Johnson Valley.”

The council has opposed the base’s westward expansion for several years. A 2009 resolution warns a loss of off-roading access will lead to more illegal riding and take money from businesses whose customers are off-roaders.

O.C. water board approves Cadiz's desert-pumping plans

The Santa Margarita Water District signs off on the Cadiz groundwater pumping project's environmental impact report, despite expected legal challenges by opponents.

Water pours out into a spreading basin which holds water from a pilot well, part of a possible water storage component on Cadiz Ranch. Cadiz Inc. recently received environmental approval, allowing the company to move a step closer to pumping and selling Mojave Desert groundwater. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times

One of the West's most ambitious private water marketing proposals has taken a step forward with the environmental approval ofCadiz Inc.'s plans to sell massive amounts of Mojave Desert groundwater to Southern California.

The board of the Santa Margarita Water District, which serves 155,000 customers in south Orange County, voted 5 to 0 Tuesday night to sign off on the project's environmental impact report under state law. The board also agreed to buy one-tenth of the project's proposed annual yield.

The actions are a boost for Cadiz, whose owner, British-born entrepreneur Keith Brackpool, has been trying for 15 years to make money off the aquifer that lies beneath his desert holdings 200 miles east of Los Angeles.

But Cadiz has many more hoops to jump through before Brackpool's dream becomes a reality. The project, with a preliminary price tag of $225 milion to $275 million, lacks financing. It faces legal challenges and the possibility that it may still have to win approval from the federal government, which manages public lands surrounding the proposed well field.

In an interview Wednesday, Santa Margarita board member Charley Wilsonsaid the district views the project as a way to diversify supplies, but he acknowledged that it was far from guaranteed. "We thought [it] was worth taking the next step to see if it comes to fruition."

The district's authority to act as lead in the environmental review process has been challenged in lawsuits filed by opponents, who are expected to take additional legal action to try to overturn the board's decision.

"We believe that the board made a terrible mistake last night and that this move will jeopardize the Mojave National Preserve springs, groundwater resources and air quality," said Seth Shteir of the National Parks Conservation Assn., one of a number of environmental groups fighting the proposal.

Cadiz wants to withdraw enough groundwater every year to supply 100,000 homes and sell it at prices that could produce $1 billion to $2 billion in corporate revenue over the 50-year life of the project. Though Central Valley farmers pump and sell groundwater during drought, the scale of the desert project is unprecedented for a private venture in California.

The planned pumping rate would exceed the aquifer's natural recharge rate, lowering the groundwater table not just beneath the Cadiz property but also below neighboring federal land that is home to bighorn sheep herds and the desert tortoise.

Three former superintendents of the nearby Mojave National Preserve and a former regional director of the National Park Service recently urged the water board to reject the environmental review as inadequate.

Wilson said the board based its decision on a review of scientific data. The district's general manager, Dan Ferons, said the monitoring and management plan approved by the board would provide "plenty of warning signals" if the operation was harming the desert environment.

Experts hired by Cadiz have said the withdrawals would not hurt springs in the area or cause significant environmental damage. But their analysis has been disputed by preserve officials and experts hired by conservation groups, who say Cadiz has greatly overestimated the aquifer's recharge rate — and underestimated the possible effects of a half century of pumping.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whose 1994 desert protection legislation established the preserve, has asked the U.S. Interior Department to review the proposal under federal environmental law, a process that would slow the project and possibly lead to the adoption of stricter monitoring and management guidelines.

"At a bare minimum, this project must undergo thorough federal environmental reviews — not just reviews at the state level," Feinstein said in a statement to The Times. "Cadiz could deplete the aquifer to the extent that it would effectively destroy that portion of the Mojave which I have worked to protect."

Cadiz has insisted it doesn't need federal approval because the 43-mile pipeline connecting the well field to the Colorado River Aqueduct would be buried along an existing railroad right-of-way across federal land. But a 2011 opinion by the Interior solicitor threw that rationale into question by concluding that railroads can't authorize activities that don't further the railroad's purpose.

The Interior Department says it is evaluating Cadiz's argument that the project would aid the railroad by providing water to douse railroad trestle fires, wash rail cars and operate a steam engine train, which the railroad is considering launching with Cadiz as a weekend tourist attraction.

Also pending is permission from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transport Cadiz supplies in the river aqueduct, which Metropolitan owns and operates. The agency has expressed concerns about the presence of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen, in the aquifer that Cadiz would draw from, raising the possibility that expensive well field treatment would be required. Metropolitan has also informed Cadiz that aqueduct space may not always be available for its shipments.