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April 05, 2017

Aguilar Testifies in Support of Bipartisan Bill to Protect San Bernardino County Environment and Support Economic Development

Today, Rep. Pete Aguilar testified before the Natural Resources Committee in support of H.R. 497, the Santa Ana River Wash Plan Land Exchange Act, which is a land-use plan that allows the transfer of land between the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District and the Bureau of Land Management. The land exchange takes place in a designated region within the Santa Ana Wash, at the junction of the Santa Ana River and Mill Creek. Rep. Aguilar originally introduced the bipartisan bill in 2015 with fellow San Bernardino County Representative Paul Cook (R-Apple Valley). Rep. Aguilar joined Rep. Cook to reintroduce the legislation in the 115th Congress earlier this year.

Currently, land within the Santa Ana Wash is owned by both the San Bernardino Water Conservation District (the District) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Parcels owned by the District are currently used for the purpose of recharging water in more than 77 basins, and also provide Riversidian Sage Scrub habitat. New lands would be set aside for conservation purposes near land managed by the BLM.  The wash area is occupied by two mining companies, Cemex and Robertson’s Ready Mix, which extract aggregate for cement and concrete production. The production of aggregate will support numerous infrastructure projects and $36 million annually in payroll from this site alone. The exchange of land between the District and BLM will connect a patchwork of land ownership to create a consolidated open space for conservation purposes and will optimize mining efficiency and water conservation efforts.  

“I’m glad to join Rep. Paul Cook on this important bill, and appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Natural Resources Committee to reaffirm that support,” said Rep. Aguilar. He added, “This bill helps us accomplish some really important objectives for our community: investing in our regional economy, protecting our wildlife and environment, supporting local infrastructure projects and conserving water. To put it simply, the Wash Plan is an economic and environmental victory for the Inland Empire.”

Rep. Cook said, “This important bipartisan legislation will complete the land swap at the center of the Santa Ana River Wash Plan. The Wash Plan will allow for the expansion of existing aggregate mining operations to support infrastructure, protect water recharge in the wash and manage critical habitat for threatened and endangered plants and animals. I look forward to working with Rep. Aguilar to get this done.”

Daniel Cozad of the San Bernardino Water Conservation District commented, “I am so pleased to have the bipartisan support of Congressmen Aguilar and Cook for H.R. 497. This hearing is a critical step in completing the Wash Plan Habitat Conservation Plan that conserves and protects habitat, while permitting water conservation, mining and needed local government projects.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the accompanying bill in the United States Senate earlier this year. Both Cemex and Robertson’s Ready Mix have also authored letters in support of the bill. The Wash Plan has been a continuing project for nearly thirty years, beginning in the 1980s as a proposal by the cities of Highland and Redlands. Rep. Aguilar has supported the initiative since he was on the Redlands City Council, and later as the Mayor of Redlands.