Mojave Desert Boondoggles: The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project

Cadiz

“…the voice of the desert is the one which has been least often heard.
We came to it last, and when we did come,
we came principally to exploit rather than to listen.
Joseph Wood Krutch

It’s long been acknowledged that the Mojave Desert provides the most ideal location for our prisons, landfills, renewable energy plants, military installations, military bombing ranges, and royalty-free access to minerals and water. In what other ways could man possibly benefit from the realm of desert bighorn sheep, seasonal wildflower blooms, desert tortoises, and wild desert springs? Unfortunately, this is the traditionally held [ignorant] view of and behavior toward the the California desert and its “resources”.

Bonanza

THREATENED: Bonanza Spring and the Clipper Mountains

The publicly-traded company Cadiz, Inc.  grows citrus and avocados on its 45,000 acres of privately held desert land in Cadiz Valley (water intensive farming in the desert?). Cadiz proposes to mine 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater (shared) every year from beneath Cadiz Valley while claiming that pumping from the basin would not affect Bonanza Spring (seen in the attached photos), or any other springs in the adjacent Mojave Trails National Monument or the Mojave National Preserve to the north. U.S. Geological Survey geologists assert that only 5,000 to 6,000 acre-feet per year of recharge is possible (this is, after all, the driest desert in North America). It’s simple math: drawdown will exceed recharge (Never Forget: Owens Valley and the LADWP). For nearly two decades, Cadiz, Inc. has tried to advance their project and for nearly two decades it has failed. Why?

“Access to new water supplies is extremely critical to the continued vitality of our cities,” says California Senator Tony Cárdenas in a promotional document defending Cadiz. But will a private water sale to one county benefiting a mere 400,000 people offer relief to a metropolitan area of 13 million? Cárdenas falls right in line with those who believe that coastal cities can sustain infinite growth (“vitality”) without an adequate local water supply. It is both illogical and irrational for a coastal city to suggest that it requires desert water for its “vitality”.

The California desert conservation community has been successful repeatedly at beating the bullsh*t served up by Cadiz; forward movement has been blocked again and again. That is, until the nightmare 45th President of the United States moved into the White House. Why would POTUS have an interest in the remote California desert and in a water project that serves less than half a million? Why would this unremarkable water project on the remote Mojave Desert make Donald’s Top 50 Priority List of Emergency and National Security Projects? Why, follow that money trail!

In late July, the 45th Administration confirmed David Bernhardt, a highly controversial pick, for the Number 2 post at the Department of the Interior:

“Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on David Bernhardt, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Interior, to recuse himself from all matters concerning the Cadiz water extraction project. Bernhardt is currently the head of the natural resources division at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the lobbying firm that is representing Cadiz.” “Given the fact that your current firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, is contracted to lobby on behalf of Cadiz, Inc., I remain deeply concerned about any potential conflict of interest should you serve as Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior—the agency responsible for oversight of the federal lands related to the Cadiz proposal,” Senator Feinstein wrote.”

Yes, you read this correctly. David Bernhardt represents one of the most egregious and recent conflicts of interest arising from this Administration.

With your help we will can protect the Mojave and stop The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project because it is so wrong on so many levels. If , as the proponents suggest, the project is good and necessary, then why has it been so hotly contested and written about? Several hours worth of insight can be found in the numerous links provided below.

Protect and preserve Your Mojave Desert – thank you for reading and opposing this damaging and dirty project. #RememberOwensValley #CadizSUCKS

Environmental groups sue Trump administration over California desert groundwater project

A Controversial Plan to Drain Water From the Desert? Go for It, Trump Administration Says

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

Will Cadiz Project Drain Desert Aquifers?

The ludicrous plan to pump Mojave water to L.A.

Opinion: AB 1000 Would Protect California’s Deserts From Trump

The scheme to pump desert water to L.A. could destroy the Mojave. California’s Legislature needs to block it

WATER IS PRECIOUS IN THE DESERT. SPEAK UP TO PROTECT IT.

Cadiz Water Project should be nixed

TAKE ACTION: Protect California’s Precious Desert Water Resources!

State Legislation Introduced to Protect Water Resources, National Parks and Public Lands in California Desert

Cadiz: The Desert Water Pimps

Interior head says public lands can make U.S. a ‘dominant’ oil power

Secretary Zinke’s Magic-8-Ball approach to policy making

Trump eases the way for a controversial water pumping project in a California desert

Mojave Desert Feinstein asks Trump administration to protect desert water

Cadiz Inc. would harm the Mohave. Here’s how

Cook: Orange County Water District Should Distance Itself from the Cadiz Water Project

Feinstein to Zinke: Don’t Let Cadiz Destroy Pristine Desert

The Absurdity of the Cadiz Water Export Scheme

Feinstein: Trump Nominee Should Recuse Himself from Cadiz Water Project

Water extraction project would be destructive to California’s Mojave Desert

Desert Water Project Would Threaten Tribes’ Sacred Lands

How you can tell Trump cares nothing about water: He’s supporting the ridiculous Cadiz project

The Unique Mojave Desert Oasis at the Center of the Cadiz Controversy

National monument boundaries protect our heritage: Guest commentary

Protect the Groundwater Beneath Our National Treasures

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

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Bearing Witness

This essay features numerous links to important illustrations and articles referenced – please click them.

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Michael worships a Giant. Sequoiadendron giganteum, Sierra National Forest

For many years in the West we’ve been hearing and learning about drought-stressed trees (USDA Drought Monitor), bark beetles, and climate change. My anger is justified when the 2016 GOP Presidential nominee comes to California for money and support and declares that our drought is political, not real.

During my adult life, “permanent” snowfields in the High Sierra have disappeared; its glaciers are dying; and alpine ice climbs I once made can no longer be repeated (not until the next ice age, anyway). I’ve also experienced the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park (expected to be gone by 2030) and near and dear to me, Joshua Tree National Park could lose its namesake trees by the end of this century. Overt signs of climate change are available everywhere in the West – if one is paying attention and not politically motivated to deny them.

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Giant Sequoia, Sequoia National Park

Following the opening reception of my latest exhibition in Sacramento, California, I decided to take the longer and slower route back to Southern California through the western side of the mighty Sierra Nevada mountain range. As a lifelong hiker, climber, and lover of the Sierra, I have always enjoyed its tremendous diversity. The east side of the range rises abruptly more than ten thousand vertical feet over the Owens Valley – from high desert to the alpine zone and the granitic massif of Mt. Whitney in just a few short horizontal miles. By comparison, the west side of the Sierra makes a long and gradual rise from the San Joaquin Valley towards its mighty crest – nearing sixty miles at its widest – containing chaparral and oak covered foothills, shadowed and fern-filled forests containing massive conifers (including the world-famous Giant Sequoia/Sequoiadendron giganteum), and life-giving rivers (the Kern, Kaweah, Kings, Merced, Owens, and many others) that make habitation and agriculture possible in otherwise arid California. While the East side is the dry side of the range, the west side is typically forested, wet, and green – lush and verdant by California standards (Pacific Northwesterners are laughing). My recent tour of the range, however, has forever altered my view. The Sierra Nevada will never again in my lifetime look the way I once knew it.

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Transformation – Sierra National Forest

On August 11th – the day before I began my drive to Sacramento – I received from a friend a link to a disturbing article: “Forests of fatalities: after 70 million tree deaths, worst “still to come – which highlights tremendous tree mortality throughout the state. A Washington Post article of December 2015 similarly suggests “fairly consistent predictions of widespread loss of piñon pine and juniper in the southwest, sometime around 2050.”As I headed north on Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley- the Valley that feeds much of America’s humans (not its livestock) – I was shocked to see so many dead crops, dying trees, and fallow fields. Some of these “Central Valley” communities have gone dry in recent years and have had to truck in water just for human consumption.

Outside of Yosemite Valley, my busy schedule over the last couple years had kept me away from most of the western Sierra. My return was met with much shock and sadness. The U.S. Forest Service has declared that Sierra tree mortality jumped eight-fold from 2014 to 2015 – from 3.3 million dead trees to 29 million dead trees. In 2014, I might have suggested that there were no dead trees in the Western Sierra. No matter where one looks now, a sea of dead trees encompasses the view.

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Thousands of dead conifers through a haze of wildfire smoke. Chiquito Ridge, south of Yosemite National Park

As I made my way from Sonora to northern Yosemite National Park, I traversed some new ground and received yet another horrifying glimpse of Rim Fire aftermath. I was in Yosemite NP while the Rim Fire burned and distinctly recall near zero visibility at times. That fire had begun and consumed approximately 400 square miles of Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite NP just three years prior. The view from a prominent overlook revealed not a verdant green forest filled with undergrowth, deer, and birds; rather a brushy and barren landscape that will likely never return to its former verdant glory (not in our lives).

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Can’t see the forest for the dead trees. 2015 Willow Fire aftermath – a long view to Mounts Ritter and Banner in the Eastern Sierra

Making my way further south only revealed more horror. For the first time I got a glimpse of the 2015 Rough Fire aftermath which ravaged Sierra and Sequoia National Forests and parts of Kings Canyon NP. A prominent overlook of Kings Canyon revealed a nearly desertified landscape, looking more akin to dry southern California ranges than the Sierra I once knew. I found myself becoming more depressed about the bleak devastation before me and believed that climbing a mountain might deliver good tidings – I headed further south to Mineral King Valley (Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP).

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Beautiful Mineral King Valley filtered through the smoke of the Sequoia NF Cedar Fire (still active at time of this writing)

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Sawtooth Peak (the prominent fin on right), Needham Mountain (behind), and Columbine Lake. Mt. Whitney is visible far to the east.

I aimed for Sawtooth Peak, six miles and 4500′ elevation gain from my camp in Mineral King Valley. I started walking early to beat the heat and meet my wild neighbors who keep different schedules. Along the way I met at close range numerous marmots, grouse, squirrels and velvet-antlered mule deer. Walking alone and quietly always brings rewards. As I neared Sawtooth Pass, I began to see smoke moving my way from the south.

Hiding out under the trees of the Sierra for several days prior, I was unaware that yet another fire had erupted while I journeyed south. Daily sky views to that point had never been promising. Always orange or gray – never blue – the central California sky had been altered for weeks by the Soberanes Fire on the coast (erupted on July 22, still active at time of this writing).

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Mineral King Sierra with a plume from the Cedar Fire blowing up to the south

As I neared the summit I saw a huge plume to the south. My heart sunk; not another one!? At first I believed that it might be the Blue Cut Fire on the San Bernardino National Forest far to the south – it had only begun a few days prior. Little did I know that the Lake Isabella region was getting hit by yet another new and quickly-growing fire (which had suffered the devastating Erskine Fire only weeks prior).

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. John Muir

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I look distressed. Self-portrait on the summit, with the rugged Kaweah Peaks behind me

Quiet walks in the wild and climbing mountains has always been my antidote. It uplifts, it nurtures, it restores, it heals. But good tidings diminish quickly when even the view from a summit leaves one with a feeling of anguish. I stayed as long as I could. The air was getting thicker with smoke, my breathing was altered (especially at more than 12,000 feet above sea level) – I decided to depart before the smoke or my disposition worsened.

 

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My last look south from the summit

California’s natural landscape is very dynamic and has always been shaped by wildfire – this is not likely news to anyone. But it all changes when one factors unstoppable population growth, historic drought, community building in hazardous zones, and ultimately – repeated human-caused fires (not wild: power tools, downed power lines, bullets, sparks). We are helping to quickly transform and destroy the landscape we love.

Among the books in my collection is Charles Little’s The Dying of the Trees. Written in 1995, Little offers insights to dying forests around our globe. Much of it human caused, but not much mention of climate change. It was at that point beyond our knowledge and not part of our everyday lexicon. Only twenty-one years later, climate change has become very real very fast, and very threatening to our own ways of life. Every western U.S. state is suffering deeply from its effects; models predict it will only worsen.

The Sierra Nevada I once knew is no longer. Attributing blame is unimportant; acknowledging it and acting on it is paramount. Should any reader of this essay be among those who deny the overwhelming science and evidence of climate change , I invite you to California for a very personal and sobering tour.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

 

The 2015 Moab Photography Symposium

MPSI am thrilled to announce that I’ve been invited to present and teach at the 2015 Moab Photography Symposium! This year’s schedule also includes presentations from Charles CramerGuy TalChuck KimmerleBruce Hucko, and Colleen Miniuk-Sperry (all friends, all wonderful artists). Two-hour breakout sessions and afternoon field workshops are also offered by each presenter.

I attended my first digital printing workshop with Charles Cramer way back in 2002. I would have never believed that thirteen years later I would be presenting and teaching in the same forum as Charlie! I first met and camped with Symposium director Bruce Hucko in October 2014 in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante. Bruce saw a kindred (and perhaps slightly crazy) spirit with my unabashed enthusiasm for tequila and wildlands (not necessarily in that order). As with where all other good things in life happen, around the campfire (not proverbial) I was asked to present. The Symposium will be a thrill for me both as presenter and attendee.

Find inspiration, fresh ideas, and new friends at the 12th annual Moab Photography Symposium this April 30-May 3! This popular event fills fast and sells out quickly. As of this moment, there are only six slots remaining (four on Friday, two on Saturday) for my half-day Field Sessions. I hope you will join us in Moab this spring for an extraordinary event! Learn More Now

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

STOP the Proposed Silurian Valley Wind/Solar Project!

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

Dear Readers and friends of the California Desert, I need your help opposing the proposed Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project which is slated for development southeast of Death Valley National Park. The proposed project would be a 200 megawatt solar facility consisting of multiple arrays of photovoltaic panels, 44 miles of service roads, a project substation, an operation & maintenance facilities including an aerial generation transmission line and will impact 7,219 acres of public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approximately 10 miles north of Baker, San Bernardino County, along State Highway 127. Silurian Valley remains in a nearly pristine state just outside Death Valley National Park, just north of Mojave National Preserve, and is directly adjacent to the Hollow Hills Wilderness and Kingston Range Wilderness areasthis is simply the wrong location for this project. In mid-2013, National Geographic released a special publication entitled ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Places‘ in which the Mojave Desert was named as one of the 100 most remarkable destinations:

“Far from the madding metropolitan crowds of Las Vegas and Los Angeles that surround it, the Mojave Desert offers the balm of silence and solitude. Canyons, giant mesas, mountains, towering dunes, and vast, dust-dry plains make up one of North America’s most elemental landscapes. It is a world little touched by humans, save for the odd crumbling mine or homestead, but one which nature adorns with the beauty of the Joshua tree and spring’s brief-lived wildflowers…”

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

Renewable energy projects should be smart from the start, but the  proposed Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project is a poster child for inappropriately sited renewable energy projects which threatens scenic view-sheds and critical wildlife habitat in a presently undisturbed valley. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommends that BLM reject the proposal “because of its potential for substantial adverse effects on trust resources including desert tortoises, migratory birds, and golden eagles. The proposed project would introduce a substantial amount of human impact into an area that is currently undisturbed”. Solar panels belong in urban areas, on roof tops, canopies over parking lots, public parks, along freeways, train tracks, and other suitable locations within the areas where it is consumed – NOT on our public wildlands and NOT in Silurian Valley.

With your help we can help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to understand the full range of impacts this project proposes for wildlife, viewshed, Death Valley National Park, and adjacent Wilderness Study Areas. Together we can ensure that the BLM does not blindly approve this harmful project (what’s wrong with “green” energy?).

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

©2013 Michael E. Gordon

I urge you to please submit your written comments by the May 28, 2014 deadline to:

Katrina Symons
BLM Barstow Field Manager
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
or by email at Silurian_Valley_Solar@blm.gov

Please share this post widely with others who care about our National Parks, protecting public lands and open space from industrialized corporate development, preserving desert wildlife and views, and with those who care about holding subsidized developers responsible for not harming our world-famous deserts (tourists travel from around the world to take in our vast and timeless desert views). PLEASE HELP STOP the Silurian Valley Solar/Wind Project!

Additional reading:

Basin and Range Watch Silurian Valley page (comprehensive details, maps, photos)

USDA Fish & Wildlife Service comments AGAINST the Proposal

* Silurian Valley Solar: Beautiful Bureaucracy at Work

* Mojave Desert Blog: Ode to Silurian Valley

* The Wilderness Society: California’s Silurian Valley

* L.A. Times article: The Wrong Sites for Solar

* Sacrificial Land: Will renewable energy devour the Mojave Desert? (High Country News)

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

STOP the Proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project!

Proposal zone from the tip of the proposed North Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Proposal zone from the tip of the proposed North Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Dear Readers and Friends of the California Desert, I urge your action against the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project, south of Death Valley National Park and proposed for development immediately adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve. Renewable energy projects should be smart from the start, but the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project is THE poster child for inappropriately sited renewable energy projects which threatens the Mojave National Preserve, bighorn sheep migration corridors, desert tortoise habitat, the endangered tui chub pup fish, and world-renowned scenic view-sheds. With your help we can help the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to understand the full range of impacts this project proposes for wildlife, viewshed, the Mojave National Preserve and adjacent Wilderness Study Areas. Together we will ensure that the BLM does not blindly approve this harmful project (what’s wrong with “green” energy?).

The Soda Mountain Solar Project is a proposed 350-megawatt photo-voltaic electric power generating plant proposed on 4,397 acres of public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) some six miles southwest of Baker, California and immediately adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve  (yes, immediately adjacent to a

Proposal zone from the southwestern tip of the proposed South Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

Proposal zone from the southwestern tip of the proposed South Array. This entire view would be covered by PVT panels. In the background is the Mojave National Preserve.

National Park unit). The application by Soda Mountain Solar, LLC requests a right-of-way authorization to construct a solar field on 2,691 acres, a project substation, an access road, operations and maintenance buildings, and to realign approximately 3.3 miles of Rasor Road. The Sierra Club’s Desert Report recently featured a piece on this proposal which outlines this tragedy in the making. Author Sid Silliman explains that “[t]he consequences for the Mojave National Preserve are of special concern because the project threatens not only the particular resources and landscape that Congress mandated to be protected by the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, but the very integrity of this treasured unit of the National Park System.”

Overview at sunset of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project. Photographed from the northern tip of the proposed 'North Array' along Blue Bell Mine access road. The Old Dad Mountains and Kelso Peak of the Mojave National Preserve can be seen at the far left edge of the frame, Interstate 15 runs horizontally through the frame (big rigs are visible), with existing transmission lines visible on the right side of the frame.

Overview at sunset of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project.

I urge you to please submit your comments by March 3, 2014 to:

Jeffrey Childers, Project Manager
BLM California Desert District Office
22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos
Moreno Valley, CA 92553

jchilders@blm.gov

Please share this post freely with others who care about our National Parks, protecting desert wildlife and views, and with those who care about holding renewable energy developers responsible for not harming our world-famous deserts (tourists travel from around the world to take in our vast and timeless desert views). PLEASE HELP STOP the Soda Mountain Solar Project!

ADDITIONAL READING:

Soda Mountain Solar Energy Project (comprehensive overview) Basin and Range Watch

Soda Mountain Solar Project Facts National Parks Conservation Association

Don’t Let Clean Energy Projects Stain National Parks The Sacramento Bee

Will A Proposed Solar Power Plant Near Mojave National Preserve Defeat Good Planning?National Parks Traveler

Mojave Desert not ideal for massive solar project The Press Enterprise

Public troubled with 4K-acre solar project near Mojave Preserve The Civic Bee

Relocate the Mojave National Preserve’s planned Soda Mountain Solar Project: Guest Commentary San Bernardino Sun

Retired National Park Leaders Oppose Soda Mountain SolarKCET.ORG

Overwhelming Opposition to Soda Mountain Solar Project The Desert News Post

Here we go again: Soda Mountain Solar ProjectHi-Desert Star

Saving the Mojave from the solar threatLos Angeles Times

BLM advances solar project that will harm bighorn sheepHigh Country News

L.A. won’t buy power from Mojave Desert solar plant, after all Los Angeles Times

MOJAVE IS A MAGICAL PLACE. LET’S PROTECT MY FORMER HOME Park Advocate

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.