SACRAMENTO — A project to pump billions of gallons of water out from under the Mojave Desert and sell it to people in Southern California could be slowed by a bill approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Vast amounts of groundwater sit in an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert, where it eventually flows to low-lying areas called “dry lakes” and either evaporates or becomes too salty to drink.

Cadiz Inc., an agriculture company that owns lots of land in the area, wants to pump out 50,000 acre feet of that water each year before it is lost and send it to Southern California. One acre foot of water (43,560 cubic feet) is more than 325,000 gallons, the amount of irrigation water that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot.

The project has passed all of the required environmental reviews dating back to at least 2002. But Thursday, state lawmakers added another step by passing a bill that would require the State Lands Commission to review the project before it can go forward.

It’s an effort that opponents of the project have tried several times before, but it’s never reached the governor’s desk.

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