Fate Of East Mojave Water Discussed By Orange County Board

Scott Slater, general counsel and president of Cadiz Inc., this week reprised his presentation of the Cadiz water project to the Municipal Water District of Orange County, one week after the Santa Margarita Water District certified the environmental impact report for that plan.  The Cadiz water project will extract up to 150,000 acre-feet of water per year and send it via a pipeline to Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. While five southern California water agencies have already signed on as eventual recipients of the water, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) currently is not one of those. At MWDOC’s request, Slater’s made a presentation to update the board.  While no action was scheduled to be taken on the informational item, Slater’s “buy now” pitch came when he advised “within six months we expect to be 100 percent subscribed”   and that “18 months from now we’ll be in construction.”
The Municipal Water District of Orange County board members, some of who also serve as directors of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District, evinced considerably less enthusiasm for the project than had the Santa Margarita Water District board members last week.   That lack of enthusiasm may prove crucial down the road since Cadiz Inc. will need the cooperation of the Metropolitan Water District with regard to the use of its aqueducts and other water conveyance facilities to deliver the desert water to the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.
The added cost of treating the Cadiz aquifer water, reportedly laced with 14 to 16 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium, has previously been cited as one of the Metropolitan Water District’s concerns.  Diluting the chromium by blending it with Colorado River water to reach the public health goal standard of  .02 parts per billion is a challenging option since the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) is already blending to bring “chrome 6” levels down.  In 2002, acting as lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the MWD ultimately rejected an earlier version of the Cadiz Water Plan which was then called the “Cadiz Groundwater Storage and Dry-Year Supply Program.”  Subsequently, Cadiz filed a lawsuit against the MWD, and though they dropped it shortly before trial, the preparation was costly for the water agency.   It is not likely the board members in attendance had forgotten that Cadiz, Inc. had filed that lawsuit.
After a 20 minute presentation, board members asked hard questions, demonstrating their reluctance to embrace the current Cadiz Water Project, in some part based upon their experience with the previously proposed project. Board member Brett Barbre observed that the district being asked to participate in the Cadiz project was essentially a suggestion that  MWDOC was not presently supplying its customers with an adequate water supply and wondered if Cadiz thought this was  justification for accepting  Cadiz’s toxic water into the Colorado River Aqueduct.
Slater threw two carrots to the Municipal Water District of Orange County. Board member Larry Dick was interested in intentionally created surplus water credits the district would get for lessening its use of Colorado River Water and whether Slater was willing to pay anything  relative to the MWDOC wheeling rate.  Slater said the credits could be obtained and that the   Municipal Water District of Orange County could up its wheeling rates to whatever level it wished.
Slater said the water to be drawn from the Cadiz Valley was not tributary to the Colorado River, an assertion that has previously been disputed by opponents of the project.
Slater reassured the board that there should be no concern over the failure of springs, since his company’s hydrologic studies show that the springs are not connected to the aquifer, and are instead fed by runoff. He essentially asserted that the springs are not artesian or forced from water pressure coming from above.
Slater cited a “quartet of criticisms” surrounding the previous version of the plan.  He said  “It became obvious to me that we were never going to make progress unless we understood issues” and identified as the four concerns the project scale, the failure of springs in the upper water shed, the potential for subsidence and dust.  The high chromium 6 level was not included within the quartet of concerns, though the board had an abiding interest in that question.
Craig Innis, a Santa Margarita Water District ratepayer who is currently considering running for a position on the district board, pointed out that Slater’s Powerpoint presentation did not include a slide of how the  chromium 6 levels at Cadiz are twice as high as the content at PG&E’s Hinkley  plant where Erin Brockovich made famous the illnesses and death caused by the contamination.  Innis then quoted Metropolitan Water general manager Ron Gastelum, who in 2000 said, “If it’s going to cost as much as Ft. Knox, we’ll look for another project.” Innis cited the possibility that the Hinkley plume migration will require additional monitoring if water is being downdrafted in the lower basins, including Cadiz 100 miles south. Innis was particularly concerned that the $425,000 in the escrow account would not cover the Santa Margarita Water District’s out-of-pocket expenses, Cadiz was almost insolvent and their loans were coming due in June of 2013 and that the  law firm representing Cadiz, Brownstein Hyatt Faber & Schreck, did not have enough money to lobby the millions of water ratepayers who’ would protest the chromium 6 in their water.  He observed that the Metropolitan Water District will not look at the chromium 6 issue until next summer  and before that could bow to public pressure over the chromium 6 issue and not accept the water.  If the Colorado River Aqueduct cannot be used, the failed project could cause the  corporation to fold and leave ratepayers holding the tab, he suggested, and he said that no matter how much money is in the escrow account, the court will put a hold on it.
He cited numerous large homeowner associations in the Rancho Santa Margarita  area with thousands of residents who are against the Cadiz Project and said “we want to be paying for water, not litigation.”
Several project opponents attending the meeting challenged the substance of Slater’s presentation.  David Lamfrom of the National Parks Conservation Association rejected Slater’s argument that the springs are not hydraulically connected and would not be impacted, offering to make available to the board the independent tests and analysis data compiled by the National Parks Conservation Association countering the findings  of the Cadiz project environmental impact report, which the association considers to be grossly flawed.
Despite the pronounced opposition to the project at public meetings, Slater referenced in his statements to the MWDOC board overwhelming support from the citizens of San Bernardino County.  Ruth Musser-Lopez, a resident and former city council member from Needles, commented that no public hearings or information meetings had been held in Needles or anywhere else east of Kelbaker Road in the district where the Cadiz water project would be located.  She said that the San Bernardino County residents most impacted by the project were excluded from the process and that the Needles mayor and city council were on record as being unanimously opposed to the current project.
Musser-Lopez also took exception to Slater’s powerpoint imagery and speech characterizing the east Mojave as aving snowcapped mountain and ice packs, saying that this was a gross misrepresentation and that snowfall in the desert was a rare thing.  A former Bureau of Land Management archaeologist working in the east Mojave for eight years, Lopez said that she had worked extensively with desert scientists and that the current environmental impact report  seemed more like spin than science to her.  She described her own evidence that the watershed in Fenner and Lanfair Valley also migrated easterly, surfacing in various places including Paiute Creek and Klinefelter Spring before it reached the Colorado River.  She asked the board why they would want to risk an interception of the water at the Fenner Gap, water that they would need to pay for, when they are already getting the water that naturally migrates easterly, provides water for wildlife where it surfaces, and gets cleaned in the sandy alluvium along the way before it reaches the river.
In response, Slater rejected the notion that water was migrating any direction except through the Cadiz Valley.
Not discussed during the meeting was an accounting of the loss of 30,000 acre feet per year of subsurface groundwater, not exposed to evaporation – the difference between the watershed recharge factored in the environmental impact report at 32,000 acre feet per year and the 2,000 acre-feet per year said to flow through the Fenner gap to the Cadiz Valley.
Debbie Cook, former Huntington Beach Mayor, objected to the lack of transparency during the process of approving the project.

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