A private company received preliminary approval to drill wells into massive aquifers underneath the Southern California desert and pull billions of gallons of water a year for homeowners in the region.
San Bernardino County officials approved a plan to pump the Mojave Desert's groundwater, but Cadiz Inc. still needs permission to move the groundwater through the Colorado River Aqueduct — and it has yet to secure financing for the project, estimated to cost $275 million.
County supervisors voted 4 to 1 Monday to allow the private company to draw more than 1 million acre-feet of water from the desert aquifer over 50 years.
The project’s backers say precipitation will recharge the underground water storage, but independent scientists have countered that the project’s more like mining than pumping.
Environmentalists have filed lawsuits to block the project, saying it would harm the threatened desert tortoise, bighorn sheep and the Mojave National Preserve, where some of the world's oldest Joshua trees grow.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called for a federal review of the proposal.