The majority of candidates in the race for First District supervisor have gone on record as being opposed to the Cadiz Water project, indicating they do not think the energetic effort to divert water from the Mojave Desert to Orange County is in the interest of their would-be constituents or the county itself.
Referred to by its proponents as the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project but lambasted by its opponents as one that will deprive the desert of a precious resource, the undertaking is an $878 million proposal by Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. to sink 34 wells into the desert and construct a 44-mile pipeline along a railroad right-of-way until it meets up with the aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas. That system will be used to draw an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Cadiz Aquifer for use by the Santa Margarita Water District, the second largest water agency in Orange County; the 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.
The Cadiz Valley lies just south of the Marble Mountains and northeast of the Sheep Hole Mountains near the National Trails Highway. Cadiz is home to a former railroad stop along the Santa Fe line, 17 miles east of Amboy and 70 miles from Needles. Cadiz, Inc. owns or has options on 45,000 acres in and around the Cadiz Valley, 9,600 acres of which is zoned for agricultural use. That company operates an organic table grape, citrus, melon, pepper, squash, asparagus and bean growing farm on 500 acres in Cadiz, utilizing roughly 1,965 acre-feet of water per year to sustain that operation.
Cadiz has made a disputed claim to the water rights beneath 34,000 acres it has tied up in the area, and its plan calls for tapping that water supply, which is connected to other neighboring aquifers beneath land not controlled by Cadiz, Inc. Cadiz maintains it has the right to pump that water and sell it as it sees fit.
Environmentalists and many residents of the East Mojave are opposed to the project and claim the company has not established water rights beyond the 1,965-acre feet the agricultural operation uses yearly. They maintain the project will deprive the already parched desert of its most precious resource, wreak ecological devastation to the environment and allow Cadiz, Inc. to appropriate water rights it does not legally possess to commandeer water and thereby privatize a public resource.
Cadiz has arranged for the Santa Margarita Water District, which lies 217 miles from the Cadiz Valley and will be the recipient of the lion’s share of the water to be obtained under the plan, to serve as the lead agency in the environmental certification of the project. Critics of the project say this is an unacceptable conflict of interest and have already cited shortcomings in the environmental impact report, claiming that document does not accurately describe or provide a mitigation for the impact the drafting of water will have on adjacent aquifers. Environmentalists maintain that ultimately the desert’s springs, which support the region’s fragile wildlife, will dry up if such vigorous pumping is initiated. During a three-and-a-half hour hearing before the board of supervisors on May 1, they pleaded with the county board of supervisors not to have the county enter into a memorandum of understanding with Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District relative to the project.
Other critics of the project maintain that diverting the region’s water resources to Orange and Los Angeles Counties will sharply curtail or eliminate any future development potential in the East Mojave.
At the May 1 San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors meeting, Scott Slater, the president and general counsel for Cadiz, Inc., said the project would conserve water. The board also heard from local contractors and vendors who stand to make money by working on or supplying materials for the pipeline to be constructed.
After considering whether it should appeal to the California Office of Planning and Research to have the Santa Margarita Water District removed as the lead agency overseeing the environmental certification of the project and ultimately rejecting that option, the county board of supervisors on May 1 approved the memorandum of understanding between the county, Cadiz, Inc. the Santa Margarita Water District, and the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company relative to the project. The Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company is a corporate entity created by and wholly owned by Cadiz, Inc.
According to Christian Marsh, a contract attorney retained by the county to advise it on the Cadiz project, the memorandum of understanding does not give final approval to the project but puts a regime in place by which the project application being processed through the Santa Margarita Water District can be reviewed by the county, and provides the county with the authority to make an ultimate veto of the permitting of the project. Third District Supervisor Neil Derry, expressing skepticism that the Santa Margarita Water District would give proper weight to the input of San Bernardino County residents and interests during the approval process for the project, was the sole dissent in a 4-1 vote to approve the memorandum of understanding. A key vote in its support was that of First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose district the Cadiz Valley lies. Mitzelfelt, who is now running for Congress, has received $48,100 in political donations from Cadiz, Inc. since 2007.
A survey of those vying to succeed Mitzelfelt in December shows none are favorably disposed to the project.
Jermaine Wright, a member of the Adelanto School District Board of Trustees who was the first of those running to declare his candidacy for First District supervisor this year, said he would not support the project.
“My stance is that water belongs to the people of the county,” Wright said. “Private business does not have the right to take over their rights to sell it to another public entity outside of the county. We have a water shortage in the desert. That water needs to stay in San Bernardino County to offset and mitigate the use of water from elsewhere in the desert, including water that is being taken from the [Colorado] river by outside entities such as Los Angeles. Managed properly, that water will eventually provide work for people in the county. Others are ready too fast to privatize things that are held by the public for the public good.”
Bret Henry, the president of the San Bernardino County Firefighters Association who is seeking election as First District supervisor, stated, “I oppose the Cadiz Water Project and as supervisor will do my best to protect our desert resources. Water supplies in the desert are scarce and water is the backbone to life survival. So-called scientists and experts state that this project will have no impact on the water aquifer and mention they are counting water based on evaporation rates. My gut tells me this is wrong, especially since we will not know the consequences until it’s too late.
“I have and will continue to support our desert and the many recreational activities it provides the people of San Bernardino County,” Henry said. “Our leaders must stand up for the people and not special interest groups who provide campaign donations.”
Another First District supervisor candidate, Apple Valley Councilman Rick Roelle, said, “My views are quite simple. I am opposed to the shipment of Cadiz water out of the area. Water should not be sold for profit. It is a natural resource needed to maintain life. The fact that the water would be shipped to the Los Angeles area is unacceptable to me. If elected to the 1st District supervisor position, I will do everything in my power to keep the water for residents in the 1st District.
“My record as an elected official for the town of Apple Valley and a lieutenant in the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is well known,” Roelle said. “I don’t bow down to special interests, especially special interests who want to exploit our natural resources which belong in San Bernardino County.”
Another candidate for First District supervisor, Michael Orme, said, “The Cadiz Water Project concerns me since it proposes to take water – the most valuable resource we have in a desert — and transfer it to Santa Margarita. The High Desert should not be penalized for their lack of planning and growing beyond their available resource availability. Rather than taking High Desert water, the Cadiz Water Project could easily be replaced through grant funds from Prop 84, a 2006 water bond which favored urban infrastructure over rural needs.
“The role of First District supervisor is to be the steward of the district and guard the resources, including environmental, of our residents, businesses and local governments,” Orme continued. “Transferring our water resource to Orange County is a blatant infringement upon the stewardship entrusted to the supervisor.”
Robert Lovingood was unwilling to make a pronouncement for or against the project. He noted that more than a decade ago Cadiz, Inc. had floated a water use and storage proposal that called for pumping water from the Colorado River into the aquifer underlying the Cadiz Valley in wet years and drawing water out of the water table in dry years.
“That project seemed to make sense, since it would have brought water into the desert in overflow years but now they just want to drain it and sell it and use what they call surplus water. There is a storied history to the use of water in California and we wouldn’t have some of the urban areas we have if water was not taken from one place to be used in another. Inherently, water rights come with property. I am in favor of property rights. If you own property, then there is ownership of the water. Much of this issue would be controlled by the environmental impact report. There is way more to environmental impact reports today. The bottom line is this is a very complex issue and I am not informed enough to make that call.”
Requests for statements with regard to the Cadiz Water Project made to Bob Smith and Russ Blewett, two other candidates for First District supervisor, did not elicit responses.