Desert Water Plan Gains Pipe Options And Foes

Cadiz Inc. is looking toward using idle natural gas pipelines to transport water it is proposing to pump out of the aquifer in the east Mojave Desert to consumers in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
Cadiz Inc., which is also known as the Cadiz Land Company, pursued and abandoned a plan  a decade ago to extract water from the water table underlying the Cadiz Valley and transport it to the Los Angeles metropolitan area for use there. That original plan was forsaken after questions about the ecological impact of the strategy were raised by environmentalists and the entity Cadiz intended to partner with to carry out the undertaking, the Metropolitan Water Agency. That plan called for taking water from the desert aquifer in what were deemed “wet” years and pumping water from the Colorado River into the desert aquifer during “dry” years.
Four years ago, Cadiz Inc., which operates a 500-acre organic citrus, grape, tomato and melon farm in the Cadiz Valley, revived the water plan, renaming it the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. Cadiz is working with Orange County-based Santa Margarita Water District, which services an area that is more than 200 miles from the Cadiz Valley, to obtain approval for the project. The Santa Margarita Water District, is currently serving as the lead agency for the project, and is charged with overseeing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process for the undertaking.
Through an arrangement with the Cadiz Land Company, the Santa Margarita Water District will receive the lion’s share of the water. In addition, Cadiz, Inc. has entered into agreements with Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont; Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County.
Both Cadiz Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District maintain the project is an environmentally responsible one that should not alarm environmentalists or local landowners. It is one that will consist of a wellfield of 34 wells to “capture and conserve” the water resources in the East Mojave Desert using “safe, established groundwater management techniques  to ensure the project is operated without causing harm to the local environment,” according to the Santa Margarita Water District.
In recent months, however, numerous critics of the plan have come forward, asserting that  pumping from the aquifer 65,000 acre-feet of water yearly as Cadiz Inc. proposes to do would cause a continuous drop in the desert water table that would dry up springs, deplete the local area of a water source crucial to life and future development of the area, create dust storms on nearby dry lake beds, adversely impact air quality, alter the flow of groundwater beneath the Mojave Desert by drawing water away from neighboring aquifers and have a devastating effect on bighorn sheep and other indigenous wildlife.
In recent days there have been indications that Cadiz Inc. is seeking to reduce its costs in pursuing the project by eliminating its earlier declared intention of constructing a 43-mile pipeline to carry water to the Colorado River Aqueduct maintained by the Metropolitan Water District for distribution to the population centers of Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties. Instead, the company has secured options toward the purchase of unused natural gas pipelines which would instead function to move the water westward.
Under consideration is Cadiz Inc.’s purchase of a portion of a 220-mile span of 30-inch pipeline owned by El Paso Natural Gas which runs from the Bakersfield area to the Cadiz Valley. Last week, Cadiz Inc. paid El Paso Natural Gas $1 million to extend until March 2012 a previously unannounced option the company had obtained to purchase the gas line for $40 million. Hydrologists retained by Cadiz Inc. believe El Paso’s gas line can be converted to carry as much as 30,000 acre-feet of water per year. Last week, the company paid the line owner $1 million to continue an option agreement until March 2013. Cadiz also has also secured an option to acquire for $10 million a smaller gas line owned by Questar Corporation which runs from near Palm Springs to Long Beach.
Cadiz maintains the water can be transported in the natural gas lines without damage to the integrity of the pipes and without serious impact upon the quality, purity, safety or drinkability of the water.
Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Anthony Beall has gone on record as being in favor of the project. Nevertheless, there are residents of Rancho Santa Margarita who are opposed to the project.  One of those is Craig Innis, who objected to the Santa Margarita Water District serving as the lead agency on the project and what he said was “the lack of opportunity for the citizenry to be most affected by this project to make oral statements and comments. The Santa Margarita Water District held its meetings here, imposing an undue hardship for the citizenry of the Eastern Mojave Desert to have equal access and the ability to comment, having to travel 200 to 300 miles or more roundtrip to do so.”
Innis suggested that Cadiz Inc. is in “dire financial straits” after losing millions of dollars consistently for the last dozen years on its Cadiz Valley operations and he suggested that the company was actually seeking to commandeer water rights under the guise of water conservation.
“There is no surplus Colorado River water to recharge the aquifer as Cadiz asserts it wants to do in Phase II of its plan,” Innis said. “The lower basin Colorado River water, according to the evidence, simply does not have the capacity or the capability of recharging the Cadiz aquifer. Cadiz’s Phase I would drain the aquifer and surrounding wells. This is comparable to what happened to Owens Valley. The Metropolitan Water District pulled out because they knew that fact too, and could not deliver on recharging the aquifer.”
Dr. Karen Tracy, a retired dentist who has lived and worked in Joshua Tree for 26 years, told the Sentinel, “I dissent in the strongest terms to the Cadiz water project and in particular to our county supervisors’ implicit participation in this vaguely disguised water theft.”
Tracy decried the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors’ acquiescence in allowing an Orange County water district with a vested interest in utilizing the water to be derived from the project to oversee the evaluation of its environmental impacts.  “Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s bought-and-paid-for involvement has been amply documented,” Tracy said, referencing Cadiz Inc.’s political contributions to Mitzelfelt.
Since 2007, the Cadiz Land Company has been one of Mitzlefelt’s major political backers, having contributed a total of $48,100 to his campaign fund. All of the Cadiz Valley and much of the Eastern Mojave lies within the county’s First District, which Mitzelfelt represents at the county seat.
“The Mojave Desert is a well-known and highly trafficked holiday destination,” Tracy said. “The county is standing mute while others are going forward on a pumping/monitoring plan that shuts out the best available experts and trusts the pumpers as environmental custodians. United States Geologic Survey (USGS) analysis is needed to review the pumping models and groundwater drawdown; the hydrology model in use by the pumpers is mysterious at best and suspect while the work of John Izbicki and Peter Martin, USGS hydrology experts, is above reproach. I am personally familiar with them and their modeling procedures. This desert is their territory. Why has their evaluation not been solicited? Are the assurances about salt chemistry and immunity from dust storms contained in the draft environmental impact report true? What about the assurances that this aquifer is a “closed system” and delicate ecologic niches will not be affected? I’ve read the draft environmental report posted to the Santa Margarita Water District website and the pumpers just do not have the science to say that. To give perspective to the pumpers’ enterprise, they propose pumping 50,000 to 75,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the desert to the coast. I have long been a volunteer for the Joshua Basin Water District, which is not the smallest water district in the Morongo Basin in square miles, nor number of connections, nor gallons pumped. We deliver 1,500 acre-feet per year.”
According to Tracy, “The immense scope of this project demands a much larger big-picture view. The National Park Service must become part of this process because of the potential impact to natural resources on adjacent federal lands packed with the natural wonders that bring those tourists out here. Inclusion of federal lands requires a far more comprehensive environmental impact statement, precisely what the pumpers dread most. The folly of this project cannot stand up to the scrutiny of macrocosmic and verifiable science in an environmental impact statement.”
A collection of desert residents and environmentalists in February successfully pushed to have the public input deadline with regard to the environmental impact report Cadiz Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District had drafted for the project as part of the environmental certification process extended from February 13 to March 14.  That group is currently seeking to have the Santa Margarita Water District removed as the lead agency overseeing the environmental certification and approval of the project in favor of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
Meanwhile, East Mojave property owners have chartered a local water district formation committee and installed Chris Brown as chairman. The group is next scheduled to meet at the Goffs School House and Museum, located at 37198 Lanfair Road in Goffs on March 18 at 2 p.m.
Goffs is located off old Route 66 between Barstow and Needles and can be most safely accessed by way of Exit 107 for Goffs Road from the west, or the US 95 exit from the east.

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