2022 TVMWD candidate profiles: Jeff Hanlon

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

In 2019, Cadiz, Inc., a privately held water company based in Los Angeles, made a $805,000 grant to Claremont-based Three Valleys Municipal Water District.

The money was to pay for an environmental impact study of an extremely lucrative project Cadiz was proposing that would extract 16 billion gallons of groundwater annually from an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert, process it, and sell it to water suppliers in Southern California, including, presumably, Three Valleys.

The plan, which was widely reported on at the time, was for Three Valleys to pay a consulting firm, Orange County-based Aquilogic, to create the study. The scheme drew immediate stiff opposition on a variety of fronts, including the National Parks Conservation Association. The critics argued the project would cause the environmental degradation of the 70 square miles of Mojave Desert land Cadiz owns, from which the water was to be extracted.

Then on September 13, 2022, a federal court in California threw out Cadiz’s permit to go forward that had been issued by the Bureau of Land Management in the waning days of the Trump administration. The ruling aligned with the Biden administration and tribal communities, who argued the project would have devastating impacts on Tribal Nations, local communities, and nearby protected areas such as Mojave Trails National Monument and Mojave National Preserve.

And after three years, those close to the story still aren’t sure what became of that $805,000 grant. To date, the proposed study has not been released.

[Editor’s note: the COURIER has since learned the study has been released. A link is here.]

Claremont resident Jeff Hanlon remembers speaking with his friends about Cadiz and thought, “We were kind of fed up with that and thought this was not the strategy that we should be going [with]. If most people in Claremont and La Verne knew about this, they would not support this strategy,” he said.

The Cadiz saga was the last straw for Hanlon.

When he learned Three Valleys board incumbent Brian Bowcock was up for reelection on November 8, he decided to make a run, and is now a candidate for the Division III seat on Three Valleys Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors.

Hanlon said if elected he would endeavor to make transparent the details of the Cadiz grant and where the money has or has not been spent. He also supports more local and alternative routes to sourcing water in the future.

“The Cadiz water also would be dirty and full of chromium, and it would be expensive to clean up,” he said, adding had the permit been upheld, the deal would have allowed the status quo to continue for decades.

“Twenty or maybe 30 years, then what? We’re in the same exact situation we are in now, but we’ve grown much bigger as a community, and the stakes are going to be even higher,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon said Three Valleys was negligent in taking the Cadiz grant money, adding it would “sponsor a project that has no direct link to our water district for the sake of trying to dispute established environmental analysis.

“If this was the board’s best idea and their leadership, what can we expect their next best idea to be? Even if the Cadiz deal dies, is [the Three Valleys board] going to go seek out another distant source of imported water? I don’t want that to be their next best idea,” he said.

He said he celebrates the federal court’s decision to throw out Cadiz’s permit but said the board can’t take its foot off the gas.

“Cadiz is going to come back,” Hanlon said. “It is too lucrative and so we need to be ready to send a strong signal by our board at Three Valleys saying we no longer sponsor this idea.”

Aside from cutting ties with Cadiz, Hanlon’s top priority is to help Three Valleys develop a viable climate change action plan.

“If you look at the reports, the strategic plans, the [Urban Water Management Plan] that Three Valleys puts out, it’s quite scant on how we’re to address climate change,” he said. “I think what we need to do is be very serious about what our surface waters are going to be like in the future and create a climate change plan that is going to prioritize improving our local groundwater in our district, mainly under Pomona, treating that, using more of it, and recharging our own groundwater basins so that we can wean ourselves as much as possible off of imported water.”

Hanlon recognizes finding additional sources of water for Three Valleys customers is part of the job description. He sees buying imported water as a band aid solution. If elected, he wants the board to work with the state of California to advocate for more action on conservation, education, and funding. In addition to keeping the pressure on the state, he wants Three Valleys to pursue more local groundwater clean-up, recharge, and reuse efforts.

Eventually Hanlon would like to see the district to move into recycling from waste to direct potable reuse. “Other districts are doing this,” he said. “This is the future, and we need to wholesale embrace that.”

In the short term, he would like to see the board end its association with Cadiz and Aquilogic; turn Three Valleys’ current educational initiatives into viable public resources that can help constituents find rebates for conservation measures and other projects; and help the district create its own rebates.

In short, he wants Three Valleys to be a public resource that doesn’t go unused.

“I think that’s some good low-hanging fruit that we can get in right away so that when we have the ongoing situation where we have water scarcity and everyone’s lawns are dying, and we have water use moratoriums and everyone’s asking, ‘When is this going to end?’ you know we can be really transparent about how we need to responsibly change our water use,” he said.

In the long term, he wants Three Valleys to continue its partnerships with Metropolitan Water District and Los Angeles County sanitation districts, and work to acquire state and federal assistance to fund local water recycling and reuse projects.

Hanlon is an assistant professor at Whitter College where he teaches courses on American government, state and local politics, and water policy. Hanlon wants Three Valleys District III voters to know water policy is his passion.

“Basically, everything I do is sort of around it,” he said. “Also, I really believe in the power of local government to make substantial change at the small scale. I think it’s where the most powerful advocacy can happen and the most powerful changes in people’s lives.

“We fight over these big-ticket national items, right? But when it comes down to it, and you think about a water district, it’s something most people I talked to didn’t even know you could vote for. This has really big, tangible effects on people’s lives.

“I hope they realize the importance of researching the candidates and seeing what their positions are.”

Hanlon is married and has two daughters, ages 5 and 3. If elected, he hopes to do his part to help make their lives better.

“We want to do what we can to help secure their future in every way and sort of realized that this is one important way that we can try,” he said.

Hanlon appeared on a recent episode of the popular local podcast Claremont Speaks, where he talked at length about his platform. You can listen to it at claremontspeaks.com. Folks can also learn more at jeffthreevalleys.com.

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