Environmentalists File Second Suit Against Cadiz Water Project

(November 2)   A coalition of environmental groups on November 1 hit San Bernardino County with their  second lawsuit related to the controversial Cadiz Valley Water project.
Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. is the proponent of what it has officially dubbed the  Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which would extract an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water from the East Mojave Desert and convey it via pipeline to Orange and Los Angeles counties for use there.
Instead of applying with San Bernardino County for approval of both the project and its environmental impact report for the water extraction, Cadiz, Inc. succeeded in having Orange County-based Santa Margarita Water District, which lies some 217 miles from the Cadiz Valley, serve as the lead agency for the project application and environmental certification.
Santa Margarita had an interest in the project in that it has agreed to purchase at least 20 percent of the project water. Project opponents  assailed this as an unacceptable conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the Santa Margarita Water Board of Directors approved the project and certified the environmental impact report on July 31.
A month  later,  the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio Chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society filed a lawsuit against the Santa Margarita Water District and San Bernardino County, contending the water district should not have usurped the county’s authority to oversee the  environmental review of the project and the county should not have allowed  Santa Margarita do so.
San Bernardino County contemplated but ultimately elected against challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita’s assumption of lead agency status on the project and entered into a memorandum of understanding with that district and Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate entities over a groundwater monitoring plan to facilitate completion of the project.
On October 1, in keeping with that memorandum of understanding, county supervisors voted 4-1 with supervisor Neil Derry in opposition to approve a groundwater management plan for the project. The groundwater management plan reserved the county’s right to shut the water extraction process off if the water level in the desert aquifer drops below a level deemed inadmissible. Critics, however, said that the monitoring regime would not provide adequate or timely warning of such an exigency.
Even as its previous lawsuit remains pending, the coalition of the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club San Gorgonio Chapter and the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society lodged another suit on November 1 that maintains San Bernardino County failed to provide an environmental review as required by its own groundwater ordinance, which was passed in 2002 to protect the desert’s water supply.
“This shortsighted water grab will benefit those pushing more sprawl in Orange County, but it’ll rob some of California’s rare species of the water they need to survive,” said Adam Lazar, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Our desert, the residents of San Bernardino County and Orange County ratepayers all deserve better.”
“We are very disappointed that San Bernardino County has decided to ignore the need for the county to act as lead agency on this project and to complete a full environmental review.  San Bernardino County Sierra Club members expect this minimum level of responsibility on the part of the county,” said Kim Floyd, conservation chair for the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club.  “Full compliance with the county’s own groundwater ordinance would seem to be a reasonable expectation but the county has decided that Cadiz, Inc. deserves a ‘free pass’ around the county’s own ordinance.”
“The so-called Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project will actually take water away from ordinary citizens and responsible business operations, not just wildlife” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.
Former government hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey have disagreed with the Cadiz consultants on the recharge rate of the aquifer and identified the project as unsustainable over the long term.
The $260 million project would utilize water sufficient for roughly 400,000 people every year and be sold by Cadiz, Inc. to  six water districts in Southern California, all of them outside of San Bernardino County.
The filing on Wednesday is the fifth lawsuit challenging the project. In addition to the suit filed by the same four environmental groups on August 31, the River Branch of the Archaeological Heritage Association filed suit against the county of San Bernardino, Cadiz, Inc., Santa Margarita Water District, the U.S. Department of the Interior, its secretary Ken Salazar, and the Bureau of Land Management, contending both the county and the federal government failed to ensure that federal protocols with regard to the approval of the project were followed, including protection of Native American and historical artifacts on federal land which might be destroyed  or disturbed as a consequence of the project’s pipeline construction.   Delaware-based Tetra Technologies Inc., which operates a brine mining operation on dry lakes in the Cadiz Valley, has also sued San Bernardino County and Santa Margarita Water District, contesting the county’s failure to live up to its land use authority responsibility by allowing the Santa Margarita Water District to serve as lead agency. A group of ratepayers in the Santa Margarita Water District have also filed suit over the project approval, based on concerns that potential defaults and foreclosures on million dollar loans taken out by Cadiz, Inc., could place project liability upon those ratepayers.
Lame duck First District San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose district the project lies, received more than $48,500 in campaign contributions from Cadiz, Inc. before supporting the project and approving the groundwater management plan to facilitate the project. He was defeated in his run for Congress in June, an outcome that was in some part attributed to his support for the project and the exportation of water from the desert.
Project opponents maintain the project would deprive the desert of much needed water for economic development, and environmentalists said the project’s overdrafting of the water will trigger a precipitous decline in the water table that will parch the desert and dry out springs supporting bighorn sheep and other wildlife, and further create dust storms on the valley’s dry lakes.

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