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Desert Water Project Would Threaten Tribes' Sacred Lands

Old Woman Mountains
The Cadiz Dunes with the Old Woman Mountains in the background
The Cadiz Dunes with the Old Woman Mountains in the background | Photo: NASA Earth Observatory

Commentary: The Old Woman Mountains stretch from the sandy desert floor to rocky peaks that brush the sky, more than 5,000 feet above sea level.  These mountains contain sacred sites and cultural landscapes for the Chemehuevi, Mojave, Serrano, Cahuilla, Southern Paiute and other tribes that have lived in this desert region for millennia.  The region is a sacred landscape punctuated by landmarks esteemed by our tribal cultures, most notably, by the Salt Song Trail of the Chemehuevi and southern Paiute tribes.

Today, the Old Woman Mountains are accessible only by four wheel drive or an extremely long and arduous wilderness hike. They are filled with beautiful canyons, rocky spires, sacred sites and special seeps and springs that give sustenance to many animals including the red-spotted toad, chuckwalla, northern Mohave rattlesnake (Mohave green), Nelson’s bighorn sheep, kit foxes, bobcats, and kangaroo rats, bats and many migrating and resident bird species, including the rare and elusive elf owl.

The Native American Land Conservancy acquired the Preserve in 2002, with the intent of protecting and preserving this traditional tribal use area, as well as providing cultural sustenance and continuity to promote cross-cultural understanding of the value and significance of Native American sacred lands. And last year, we were delighted that President Obama designated the Mojave Trails National Monument, ensuring the protection of lands linked to the preservation of our culture. But a threat to the new monument and our Tribal lands remains: The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.

The Cadiz Project isn’t a conservation project, as it doesn’t save a drop for our children or grandchildren. Cadiz Inc.’s aggressive pumping would remove an average of 50,000 acre feet over a 50-year period totaling between 1 and 2 million acre feet over the fifty-year life of the project, and the company claims that there will be absolutely no impacts to seeps, springs or other sensitive receptors. 

But the National Park Service states that some of the Mojave National Preserve's springs are likely connected to the aquifer that would be subject to Cadiz project pumping, and could potentially be permanently impaired. Other independent hydrologists point out the uncertain impacts of this aggressive groundwater mining on private land within the newly created Mojave Trails National Monument.

Despite Cadiz Inc.’s claims, a federal environmental review is required for the project’s use of the Arizona/California Railroad right of way for their 43-mile Cadiz Project water conveyance pipeline that would tie into the Colorado River Aqueduct. That requirement is underscored by Obama’s Monument Proclamation, which specifically calls for the protection of groundwater resources, seeps and springs.

I am deeply inspired each time I come to the Old Woman Mountains and witness our Native youth exploring the area for the first time. These lands are a real-life history book, and deserve lasting protection of their wildlife and water sources.

Hundreds of years ago, Native American shamans — holy men — who prayed for their people etched designs in red ochre on cave walls and carved petroglyphs on rock panels in the Old Woman Mountains.  They depended on the resources of the area — its wildlife, plants and water for survival. Today, our tribe seeks to protect this legacy for our youth and future generations.

We strongly urge meaningful government-to-government consultation be conducted with all impacted Tribal communities. We voice grave concern about the Cadiz Project, and call on the Department of Interior to require Cadiz to obtain a federal permit and review for construction their use of the railroad right of way, and additionally request further analysis of its impacts on water resources and our sacred sites.

Commentaries are the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of KCETLink. Banner image: The Old Woman Mountains with Cadiz Valley in foreground. Photo: Chris Clarke | KCET

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