August 12, 2013

Cadiz water project takes most of congressman’s visit time

Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — A visit by Rep. Paul Cook of California’s 8th Congressional District mostly focused on the Cadiz water project as many residents who attended the Aug. 7 meeting made comments regarding the project.

Mayor Ed Paget, joined by Needles City Council Members Jim Lopez, Linda Kidd, Terry Campbell, Tom Darcy and Shawn Gudmundson, welcomed the congressman. Council Member Tony Frazier was absent from the meeting.

Several residents made their way to the podium to thank the congressman for his letter asking the federal government to review the Cadiz project. Several concerns regarding the project were also discussed.

The Cadiz water project, called the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, plans to deliver up to 50,000 acre-feet annually for 50 years. The following 50 years would be used to help recharge and focus on storage. Santa Margarita Water District approved the project last summer after a nearly 18-month environmental review. There was a public comment portion that had been extended to allow additional feedback.

Comments from residents focused on the various concerns they have about the project and possible impact it could have on the desert environment. Comments ranged in concern from how the federal government should review the project due to lack of appropriate process to depleting an already arid environment.

Rob Blair, local rancher, said his ranch has been in his family for generations. He’s concerned the project will deplete already limited water in the desert, which in turn would impact his ranch because he and his family depend on springs and wells for the livestock.

He said when in a drought, the springs start to dry up and that means selling the cattle, moving them somewhere else or spending money to pipe water.

In the proposal, Cadiz claims to be monitoring Domingo Springs, Blair said. That spring belongs to Blair and he knows there isn’t monitoring happening, he continued.

Seth Shteir, of the National Parks Conservation Association, also spoke on the Cadiz project. He referred to the phrase “no free lunch.”

Shteir said it defies credibility that Cadiz claims to want to pump 50,000 acre-feet of water annually for 50 years and that there will be no environmental impact. “We simply know better than that,” he added.

Cadiz has one set of assertions regarding the water resources in the Mojave and the association and other groups have different assertions, Shteir said. This should indicate a need for further review.

The actual impact of the project on habitat, wildlife and others who depend on the water is unknown, he said. Impact needs to be known before the project can happen.

While the visit focused on the Cadiz project, Cook did talk about other topics. He thanked all for the hospitality shown and for welcoming him.

He said the only part of the introduction he didn’t like was being called a politician. He thinks of himself as a states-person, he added.

Cook said the 8th Congressional District is a huge district and it’s difficult to get around but he appreciates getting invites and planning to visit nearby areas to avoid wasting time.

“I’m your representative,” Cook said. “It’s not about Washington.”

He said local issues are important to him and that’s part of why he raised concerns on the Cadiz project.

“I just don’t feel right about it,” he said, continuing that he’s not comfortable with taking water from his district and shipping it elsewhere.

“My first allegiance is to you guys,” Cook said to applause. “That’s the way I approach the job.”

Local issues are also why he’s spoken out about an off road area that the U.S. Marine Corps wants to expand into for training purposes. He said he has his concerns with that expansion in terms of safety.

Cook talked about how veteran affairs are important to him. “I’m not afraid to rock the boat,” he said.

He said he’s a Republican, but it doesn’t matter. It’s his job to represent everyone regardless of political persuasion.

Cook touched on the topic of economics for the city. He told the Needles Desert Star in an interview after the meeting dealing with the unique economic situation Needles faces is difficult.

He said he’s not sure how to change or help the city at the moment, though he wants to help. Residents and city staff know the city’s history best and are best equipped to develop ideas for how to help itself, he said.

Because of Needles’ small size, to get those changes made, he recommended making allies and making the city’s voice bigger so it will be heard, he said.

That type of work is how legislation is written and how changes are made to help cities, he continued; offering his services as a conduit to move ideas through the process and into law.