County Supervisors To Hold Hearings On Desert Water Project On Monday

(September 28)  The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting on Monday at 10 a.m. consisting of a public hearing to be followed by deliberation on action to either endorse or reject an Orange County Water District’s approval of a private company’s plan to extract massive amounts of water from the East Mojave Desert for ultimate use in Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties.
On July 31, Orange County-based Santa Margarita Water District  certified the environmental impact report for the Cadiz Water project, clearing the way for Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. to extract an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water per year for the next century from the eastern Mojave Desert and send it via pipeline westward to Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
The controversial plan was given go-ahead over the strident objections of desert residents and landowners, who said they viewed the project as an unprincipled theft of the desert’s water resource by Cadiz, Inc. and the water district, the second largest water district in Orange County serving the affluent communities of Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza, Las Flores, Ladera Ranch and Talega.
The Santa Margarita Water District’s assumption of lead agency status on the project, officially known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation and Recovery Project,  raised hackles in several quarters within San Bernardino County. The Santa Margarita Water District  lies 217 miles from the Cadiz Valley across the county line from San Bernardino County. Moreover, the district has an interest in the project in that some 20 percent of the water to be mined by Cadiz, Inc. will be sold to Santa Margarita.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, which would have normally been the lead agency responsible for approving the project and granting it environmental certification, initially contemplated filing an appeal with the California Office of Planning and Research to wrest from Santa Margarita authority over the project and its application for approval. The county, however, did not file such an appeal and acceded to the Santa Margarita Water District’s assumption of lead agency authority over the project application and environmental certification. Earlier this year, the county upon a vote by the board of supervisors entered into a memorandum of understanding with Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District that gave the county limited power to second-guess the district’s decision on the environmental certification and compliance with its own ground water management ordinance as well as requiring that Cadiz, Inc. defray the cost of any legal action taken by parties against the project or in reaction to its impacts.
The project has garnered considerable opposition, particularly in San Bernardino County and the East Mojave Desert, where the Cadiz Valley is located.
A brine mining operation in the desert, Tetra Technologies, has already filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County over the memorandum of understanding. Tetra alleges the monopolization of water in the area will harm its operation.
Four environmental groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Parks Conservation Association, the San Gorgonio chapter of the Sierra Club and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society – filed a suit in San Bernardino County Superior Court, naming both the county of  San Bernardino and the Santa Margarita Water District. That suit asserts the county should not have allowed the environmental review of the project to be carried out by the Mission Viejo-based Santa Margarita Water District. The suit challenges the county for allowing Santa Margarita to commandeer lead agency status and calls into question as well the water district’s approval of the environmental impact report.
The Colorado River branch of the Archaeological Heritage Association filed suit in federal court against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and San Bernardino County, further naming the Santa Margarita Water District, project proponent Cadiz, Inc. and a Cadiz, Inc. corporate offshoot, the FennerValley Mutual Water Company, as real parties in interest. That suit cited the failure of Salazar and the Department of the Interior to invoke the protocols and requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, as well as the National Environmental Protection Act, which the association maintains should have been done because part of the project will involve a 42-mile right-of-way for the aqueduct on federal land. The suit further alleges the county failed  to live up to its obligation to comply with federal law in reviewing the impact a permitted project might have on federal public resources in transferring the authority for environmental certification of the project to the Santa Margarita Water District.
A group of Orange County residents calling themselves Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense have sued the Santa Margarita Water District over its approval of the environmental impact report and the water purchase agreement it entered into with Cadiz, Inc.
John Goss, a former assistant administrative officer with San Bernardino County who had worked for 18 months drafting the county’s desert groundwater management ordinance before it was adopted in 2002, said he was concerned that the memorandum of understanding between the county, Cadiz, Inc. and Santa Margarita Water District had been entered into before a groundwater management plan for the Cadiz project was adopted. He said this violated the terms of the 2002 ordinance.
On October 1, the board of supervisors will consider the proposed Groundwater Management, Monitoring, and Mitigation Plan for the project and determine whether it will accept the Santa Margarita Water District’s certification of the project’s Environmental Impact Report. The board of supervisors will also consider a finding that it has acted properly with regard to its responsibility under the  California Environmental Quality Act.
Documents to be considered by the board during the hearing are now available for public review at

Leave a Reply