Orange County Judge Dismisses Six Remaining Suits Against Cadiz H20 Project

(May 6)  Six lawsuits that challenged the Cadiz Water Project were dismissed in a single order by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler on May 1.
Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. is undertaking what is officially known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, a plan to siphon billions of gallons of water from the East Mojave Desert for use elsewhere.  Since the 1980s, Cadiz, Inc. has operated a 500-acre organic grape, citrus, melon and pepper farm in the Cadiz Valley, thereby obtaining water pumping rights. In 2012 Cadiz, Inc. arranged to have the Santa Margarita Water District, to which it is contracted to deliver a portion of the water to be extracted from the desert, assume lead agency status for the project’s approval.
The project itself and the means by which it was approved generated nine separate lawsuits. Two of those were earlier dismissed. One lodged in federal court was withdrawn. Until May 1, six others – brought by Delaware Tetra Technologies, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Parks Conservation Association,  the San Gorgonio Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and an Orange County water customers coalition, Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense, remained active.
San Bernardino County contemplated, but in March 2012 ultimately elected against, challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita’s assumption of lead agency status on the project. Instead on May 1, 2012 the county entered into a memorandum of understanding with that district and Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate entities, including the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company, allowing Santa Margarita to oversee the environmental impact report for the project and conduct the public hearings related to project approval.
On July 31, 2012, the Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors approved the Cadiz Water Project and certified the environmental impact report for the Cadiz Water project.
On October 1, 2012, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors gave approval to a groundwater monitoring plan to facilitate completion of the project.
Cadiz intends to export the lion’s share of the water to Orange and Los Angeles counties but is also looking to sell water to other entities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
In several of the lawsuits, the adequacy of the environmental certification of the project was under attack, based upon assertions that the report’s description of the project was incomplete and misleading and that it did not offer a meaningful size-up of the effect upon the water supply, air quality, and biological resources.  San Bernardino County’s abdication of its land use and environmental oversight authority is also a recurrent issue in the lawsuits, with the claim that the  Santa Margarita Water District in Rancho Santa Margarita located over 200 miles from the project, was not the proper lead agency for the project.
Andler consolidated the cases and heard them together. In her ruling, indicated that having the Santa Margarita Water District serve as the lead agency was disconcerting, but not enough in and of itself to decertify the project approval. She dismissed the suits in one fell swoop.
“Cadiz is grateful for the thorough and deliberate review by the trial court and the Court’s validation of the environmental review conducted for the Water Project,” said Cadiz CEO Scott Slater.
Project opponents said they are contemplating appealing Andler’s ruling.

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