State water board to reopen Cemex case 

The Cemex mining site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal

State Water Resources Control Board officials announced Thursday that Cemex’s permit seeking water from the Santa Clara River — one of a number the company needs in order to fulfill its contracts to mine 56 million tons of gravel in Soledad Canyon — is being re-noticed. 

The Mexican-based international mining conglomerate did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding what this means for its plans in the area. 

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, who created legislation in 2021 trying to compel the water board to give the public a chance to weigh in on the project, was “ecstatic” about the news Thursday, but also said now there is important work to do. 

“We just got another at-bat,” Wilk said, adding that he’s already been on the phone with environmentalist groups and city officials to try to recoalesce forces that have worked on fighting the mine for decades. 

It comes just a day after the state Assembly passed a bill by Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, co-authored by Wilk, that would require the state water board to conduct a public review of the application should it move forward. Schiavo and Wilk announced earlier this year they would work together to secure passage of the bill, Assembly Bill 1631, which seeks the same outcome as Wilk’s original 2021 bill, which passed the Senate but not the Assembly.  

Schiavo’s bill is now headed to the Senate, but regardless of that the water board has now announced it will open the review that the bill seeks. 

“Hard to imagine this would have happened without some legislation and the surrounding discussion around the issue,” Schiavo said, crediting a number of community members who’ve helped, including Wilk and the Santa Clarita City Council. “I know we’ve had some direct conversation with the state water board about this and the project specifically.” 

The letter essentially means the mining giant’s plans for Soledad Canyon, as far as the state is concerned, are no longer “on hold,” according to one official familiar with the process, which was the status indicated in the state’s letter. The letter referenced the mining company was waiting for the outcome of federal authorities regarding the matter, and now that those issues were resolved, the matter could be considered again by the state board. 

A spokesman for the state water board did not immediately respond to a call or email Thursday requesting information about the next steps in the process. 

The notice, emailed to the company Thursday afternoon, means there will be proceedings and a chance for any entities that might have a possible protest to do so. 

In the just over 30 years since the initial application was filed, a number of circumstances have changed, according to the letter from Eileen Sobeck, executive director of the state water board.  

“The application was originally noticed on May 7,1993, and a decision on the application has been delayed for nearly 30 years. Since that time, the circumstances of affected downstream water users or other interested persons have changed,” according to Sobeck’s letter. “For example, many of the entities that have filed protest against the application no longer exist due to changes in property ownership and other factors. In addition, multiple entities which did not file protests in response to the 1993 notice have contacted the Division to request that the application be re-noticed so that they have an opportunity to file a protest and participate in the proceedings related to the application.” 

Cemex’s mine intends to draw water from the Santa Clara River, which Schiavo described as one of the last natural rivers in Southern California and an important resource for numerous surrounding communities including the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, in a statement in support of her legislation. 

In a phone conversation Thursday, she added that having the “second largest aggregate mine in the nation” would be hard to imagine “in our little Santa Clarita Valley.”  

Schiavo’s legislation, which the city has sponsored and supported, is one of two efforts the city currently has in opposition to a mining operation right next to its green belt — a position the city has held for 30 years, according to Masis Hagobian, city of Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations officer. 

The legislation would require the water board to re-notice an application for a beneficial use of the river’s water and provide an opportunity for protests before rendering a final determination, if the final determination hasn’t been made within 30 years of the application date. 

The other legislation is an effort by Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, which is concurrently being taken up by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, which would add areas surrounding Soledad Canyon to the federal Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. 

The state water board notified Cemex in November 2019 that any decision on the matter would be on hold until the Department of Interior made a final ruling on Cemex’s mining contracts, which Santa Clarita had previously challenged. 

“The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on the merits on Sept. 15, 2021, and entered an order on remedy on May 25, 2022,” according to the state water board’s letter. “The court’s May 2022 order vacated both the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals’ decision and the underlying Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel CEMEX, Inc.’s mining contracts. Via this letter, I am informing you that the Division is resuming staff processing efforts on the application.” 

Anyone seeking information from the water board can contact Mitchell Moody at 916-341-5383 or [email protected]. Written correspondence or inquiries should be addressed as follows: State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, Attn: Mitchell Moody, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000. 

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