Cadiz, Inc. Enlisting North & West Central Mojave In Its Diversion Of East Mojave H2O

Following an intense round of lobbying featuring the filtering of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the region’s politicians, municipal leaders in Apple Valley, Hesperia, Victorville have joined with San Bernardino County officials in a plan to divert trillions of gallons of water out of the East Mojave Desert to a water district in Orange County.
The plan, which was hatched by corporate officer with the Cadiz Water Company some four decades ago, has undergone multiple permutations and was effectively opposed previously by a coalition of environmentalists, East Mojave residents and landowners, employees of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and key politicians in San Bernardino, Sacramento and Washington, D.C.  Now, however, with the 2023 death of Dianne Feinstein, the defections of both current and former office holders who were committed project opponents to the Cadiz Water Company camp upon being hired by Cadiz or  plied with campaign funding and maneuvering by Cadiz by which it established a mutual water company ostensibly to supply East Mojave farmers and consumers but which is now being altered in the proposal to purvey water to users hundreds of miles away, the once moribund concept of the Cadiz Water pipeline appears to be undergoing a revival.
With the prospect of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water being drafted from deep in the aquifer underlying the desert at the extreme east end of San Bernardino County on a yearly basis, the likelihood for the development of that area of the desert will fade along with any hope for the expansion of the now sparse agricultural operations that have been set up there.
In the mid-1980s, Ted Dutton, whose major claims to fame prior to that had consisted of his having engineered, with George Voight, a 45-day day double escrow of the former Ontario Motor Speedway to realize an $8 million profit and engaging in a series of commercial developments in Rancho Cucamonga, amazed friends, former partners, acquaintances and others involved in the building and real estate industries on the west end of the county with the announcement that he was going to try his hand at being a farmer in the desert.
In actuality, Dutton’s sudden interest in horticulture, growing organic tomatoes, citrus, grapes, melons, peppers, and squash on a 3,500-acre spread in the Cadiz Valley was ruse he had formulated with two others – Keith Brackpool and Mark Liggett to secure water rights in a remote area of the Mojave. Brackpool, an Englishman who had left Great Britain in 1983 after he had been convicted of stock fraud and dealing in securities without a license in his native country, that same year came to the United State in search of another get-rich-quick scheme. Brackpool was attracted to Dutton after learning of how the older man had been able to take control of the speedway property without actually owning it to engineer a sale to a buyer at tremendous profit, with the only actual investment being having to cover a few weeks of the interest payments on the loan which he arranged to make the acquisition. This was just the sort of deal, one in which the “initial investor” started with virtually no money of his own to generate a fortune out of circumstance, Brackpool was looking to pull off himself. Using satellite images, Brackpool and Liggett, a geologist, convinced Dutton that there was a huge underground lake in the East Mojave Desert – the Cadiz Valley/Fenner Gap Aquifer – that could be tapped simply through obtaining ownership of some of the land overlying it.
Thus, the Cadiz Land Company was created, the ostensible purpose for which had little to do with water beyond the single well Dutton and Brackpool sunk in the Cadiz Valley to irrigate their farming operation. Over the years, they drilled eight more wells, producing tomatoes, peppers, melons, grapes and citrus. For forty years, the Cadiz Land Company’s agricultural operation has never – not even once – operated at a profit. Nevertheless, the company has been able to make an assertion, based upon the irrigation of the crops at the Cadiz farm, to water rights from the Cadiz/Fenner aquifer.
The Cadiz Land Company in the late 1990s sought to interest the Metropolitan Water District in a proposal to convey up to 1.5 million acre-feet of what was referenced as “surplus” Colorado River water to the Cadiz Valley and “store” that water by pumping it into the water table and then extracting the water and conveying it to Greater Los Angeles during “dry years.” Ultimately, however, the Metropolitan Water District in 2002 rejected that proposal.
All along, the Cadiz Land Company’s agenda had been to get control of – i.e., obtain the rights to – a massive amount of water for marketing within Southern California. The Colorado River water storage project had been the first stage of a plan to finagle ownership of the huge underground lake of pristine water that had been accumulating beneath the East Mojave Desert for hundreds of thousands of years. The idea was that while the Cadiz Land Company was storing the river water in the East Mojave for the Metropolitan Water District, mixing it with the water already in the aquifer, it would simultaneously be able to tap into the water table to extract water which it could sell to other entities in San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Los Angeles County and Orange County in need of the elixir of life. When the Colorado River water storage project failed, The Cadiz Land Company had to take a different a different, more direct approach.
That effort would be dubbed the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project. The concept this time was to sink deep wells into the East Mojave and tap into the vast reservoir of unused water there and send it westward for sale to water companies and water districts. To the immediate reactions of those who said that what the Cadiz Land Company was proposing to do was stealing the desert’s water for use along the coast and that the undertaking would threaten the desert environment, Dutton and Brackpool insisted nothing could be further from the truth. What they were proposing was, they said, just what the name they had given the project implied. It was aimed at conserving water, no misusing it. What they were aiming at was capturing the desert’s water quickly while it was on the surface and at the top of the aquifer, where it was vulnerable to evaporation. The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project would be merely recovering that water before it evaporated. In this way, the project would help the environment, not hinder it.
Along the way, the Cadiz Land Company rebranded itself as Cadiz, Inc. In the same timeframe, the company made some adjustments to its lobbying approach. Previously, the company had adhered to advice provided by former Congressman-turned-lobbyist Tony Coelho who was given a position on the Cadiz board. Coelho’s approach tilted toward vectoring money to influential statewide politicians or those with pull in Sacramento or at the regional level in the greater Los Angeles area where the water was to be marketed, such as Governor Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa. When that did not produce the desired result, the company began plying politicians in San Bernardino County, particularly those representing its vast desert outback, with money, in most cases in quantities they did not receive from their normal stable of donors.
In 2012, Cadiz, Inc, provided then-San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt with $48,100 in political donations to finesse him and his board colleagues into allowing the board of directors of the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, located 217 miles away from the Cadiz Valley, to carry out the environmental certification and approval of a controversial water extraction project in the East Mojave. Cadiz, Inc. contrived to have the Santa Margarita Water District, which serves the affluent Orange County communities of Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza, Las Flores, Ladera Ranch and Talega, oversee the environmental impact report for the project, despite the consideration that the water district was to be the largest consumer of the 75,000 acre feet of water the company was proposing to draft annually from the project’s 34 wells which were to be sunk in the Cadiz and Fenner valleys.
The unorthodox approval process for the plan to draft trillions of gallons of water from the East Mojave Desert’s pristine aquifer for use in Los Angeles and Orange counties, utilizing a governmental entity more than 200 miles removed from the property to be impacted which simultaneously had a financial and operational interest in the project to oversee the project’s environmental certification, fueled questions about the integrity and legitimacy of the governmental regulation of the effort. A number of politicians over the years, at least for a time, championed San Bernardino County and the East Mojave in the struggle to keep the plan from succeeding. Despite, or perhaps because of, the money Mitzelfelt received from Cadiz, he suffered defeat in 2012 when he vied to replace outgoing Congressman Jerry Lewis, by seeking election in California’s redrawn 8th Congressional district, which included the Cadiz Valley.
Also vying in the race for that Congressional seat was then-Assemblyman Paul Cook. Cook, taking stock of the way Mitzelfelt was intent on diverting the desert’s water to Orange County, created a plank in his campaign platform in opposition to the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project, which was referred to as the Cadiz Water Project for short. At the height of the campaign, Cook dashed off a letter to then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, stating, “The Cadiz Project, as it currently stands, is likely to impact San Bernardino County’s water resources, harming ranchers, rural communities, East Mojave landowners, and the National Chloride Company of America’s brine mining operation on Bristol Dry Lake. Moreover, the aggressive project pumping could harm the springs of the Mojave National Preserve and regional air quality, while exporting precious water resources out of San Bernardino County to ratepayers in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In order to ensure this project won’t adversely affect my district, I respectfully request the Cadiz Project be subject to a National Environmental Policy Act review. Additionally, I request that the United States Geologic Survey conduct an updated analysis of the hydrologic features of the project area and that any new or revised Cadiz Project proposals adhere to the principle of sustainable yield, meaning no more water would be pumped out of the aquifer than would be replaced through natural recharge as determined by the United States Geologic Survey. Professional independent reviews have called into question the 32,500 acre-feet per year recharge rate Cadiz Inc. claims will naturally occur. These independent scientists concluded that the actual recharge rate is between 2,000 and 10,000 acre feet per year. There are serious doubts about the validity of the previous environmental studies, specifically the draft environmental impact statement.”
Cook trounced Mitzelfelt in the primary and was elected to Congress in November 2012.
In order to run for Congress in 2012, Mitzelfelt had to forego running for reelection as First District San Bernardino County supervisor. Robert Lovingood was one of seven candidates who vied for the opportunity to replace Mitzelfelt. During that campaign, Lovingood was critical of the county’s failure to wrest the role of lead agency from the Santa Margarita Water District in considering the environmental impact report for the project. Just as the desert’s voters had responded positively to Cook’s proclaimed effort to protect the region’s water supply, so too did they support Lovingood, who was elected supervisor in November 2012.
Similarly, then-San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry went on record against the concept of removing water from the East Mojave for use in communities closer to the coast.
The most ardent office-holding opponent to Cadiz, Inc. and its designs on the desert’s water was also the most powerful: Senator Diane Feinstein, the author of the California Desert Protection Act. Feinstein proved an indefatigable foe to the efforts to draft the desert’s water and convey it out of the region. Time and again, she took action which blocked the project.
While Feinstein worked at the federal level, two members of the California legislature, State Senator Richard Roth and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, undertook efforts in Sacramento which stymied the project.
The Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors in 2012 ratified the environmental impact report for the project, using its authority to give the company clearance to construct another 25 wells throughout the Cadiz and Fenner Valleys, which lie more than 200 miles from the district’s furthest east-lying border. Questions about the propriety of that action led to the filing of no fewer than eleven lawsuits, which kept Cadiz, Inc. tied up in court for years.
In devising their strategy to obtain clearance for the Cadiz Water Project, Dutton and Brackpool had retained Scott Slater, a water rights attorney with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. It was Slater who quarterbacked, from the serenity of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Los Angeles office, how undertaking what is termed “beneficial use” of some of the East Mojave region’s vast underground water resources – at first a couple dozen acre-feet of water per year to grow fruits and vegetables on land scattered over a 40-acre plot of ground and then gradually increase that use to a couple hundred acre-feet of water to irrigate farms covering some 400 acres – that it could stake a claim to the recurrent use of tens of thousands of acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre-of ground to a depth of one foot, 43,600 cubic feet of water, or just under 325,851.43 gallons. In addition to coordinating with Metropolitan Water District’s lawyers in working out the terms of the never actuated Colorado River Water Storage Project, the terms of acquisition for property slated for both agricultural use and pipeline right-of-way, as well as the licensing and sharing arrangements for the infrastructure – pipes and aqueducts both existing and proposed – to convey the water to its end-use points, Slater formulated the approach the company would take in either getting the region’s existing governmental authorities to adjudicate local water rights in the Cadiz and Fenner Valleys or creating agencies or authorities that did not exist to assume control of that adjudicative process. That would entail stacking the boards and staff of such an agency or agencies with individuals primed to grant the Cadiz Land Company’s corporate successor, Cadiz, Inc., with the rights to far more water than was actually being used.
Hemorrhaging money on legal fees that was threatening the viability of the Cadiz Land Company altogether, Dutton and Brackpool passed control of Cadiz, Inc. into the hands of Scott Slater, who maintained his shareholder position at Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, partially out of a belief that by doing so, Slater would be able reduce the company’s astronomical legal costs. Slater was appointed President of Cadiz in 2011 and named CEO in 2013, at which point Brackpool became chairman of the board.
Throughout that time Slater was devoted to defending the company against the 11 lawsuits brought against the company. Though the company was able to prevail in most of those suits, which it succeeded in having removed to and consolidated in Orange County Superior Court, appeals on those suits were filed. The combination of those legal challenges and the efforts at the state and federal legislative levels hamstrung the company.
Simultaneously, Slater was waging a battle to establish a key component to the project: the means of conveying the water to the Metropolitan Water District’s pipeline originally created to bring Colorado River Water to Los Angeles. That effort was thwarted because the company could not get clearance to construct the pipeline on multiple grounds, the primary one be environmental. The workaround to this that Slater came up with was nothing short of a gimmick. The environmental objections to a newly constructed pipeline would not apply to land within an existing railroad right-of-way. The problem was that the regulation of the railroad right-of-way fell under the authority of the federal government, where Feinstein held tremendous sway. Of a sudden, Slater and Cadiz, Inc. grew nostalgic, proposing that the company build a shrine to the desert as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadiz, Inc. would operate a steam-powered excursion train on the Arizona & California Railroad line through the Mojave Desert between Cadiz, California and Parker, Arizona, Slater announced. The Arizona & California Railroad had been a corporate subdivision of the Santa Fe Pacific Railroad built in 1910. Cadiz, Inc. would revive it with what the company dubbed the Cadiz Southeastern Railway.
“The steam train is an original fixture of the Cadiz area – an important historical asset intimately connected to the local culture – and offers a rewarding way to invest locally and promote the unique desert environment,” said Slater in announcing the move. “As a 30-year member of the Mojave Desert community, we have long appreciated the area’s majesty and appeal and are proud to diversify our business with this exciting new venture.”
The Cadiz Southeastern Railway was to operate, the company said, on existing tracks along an 85-mile portion of the ARZC between Parker, Arizona and Cadiz with water stops in desert locales of Milligan, Chubbuck, Rice and Vidal. It would further feature a museum and cultural center at the Cadiz Ranch property dedicated to the promotion of local desert and railroad history.
In seeking the permitting for the historical tributes including the excursions, Slater said, Cadiz, Inc. would obtain permission to build the facilities needed so the Cadiz Southeastern Railway would be powered by water from the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project.
In this way, Cadiz, Inc. was constructing a water pipeline for a railroad purpose along the railroad right-of-way, it claimed. That the pipeline would also convey water from the East Mojave to the Metropolitan Water District Colorado Aqueduct was incidental.
Under the Donald Trump Administration, which included his Secretary of the Interior Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and a career Interior Department employee, Tim Spisak, promoted into the position of deputy assistant director for energy, minerals and realty management in 2017, Cadiz was able to achieve some degree of traction by getting the federal government to go on record that the existing federal railroad right-of-way could be used to construct the crucial 34-miles of pipeline to deliver the water mined from the desert well field to the existing Colorado River Aqueduct and thus make delivery to the Greater Los Angeles area. That development represented a leap forward for the project, but other obstructions prevented the project from proceeding.
Senator Feinstein remained as a Cadiz, Inc.’s primary nemesis, as at both the legislative and sub-legislative levels she barred the Department of the Interior from assisting the company with its designs on the East Mojave Desert’s water, using on multiple occasions the parliamentary ploy of using riders on bills important to politicians on both sides of the aisle that prevented the Burea of Land Management expending money on anything that would facilitate the groundwater transferring project, including completing what she felt would be environmental reviews of the proposal during the Trump Administration she believed would be favorable to the concept of depleting the desert of water.
In one respect over the years, however, first in its incarnation as the Cadiz Land Company and then as Cadiz, Inc., the company made important progress, consisting of its ability to generate extensive investor confidence, thereby draw in money from existing and new shareholders and use that capital to grease the skids politically. At various times, based on pronouncements that the project was on the verge of springing forward made by Dutton, Brackpool, other corporate officers and later Slater, there would be huge purchases of Cadiz stock, pushing its value into the stratosphere. In 2001, while it looked as if the company was going to close its deal with the Metropolitan Water District to store Colorado River Water, the value of Cadiz stock jumped to over $200 a share. It fell precipitously after Metropolitan walked away from the deal, but at various times since then, Dutton, Brackpool and Slater were able to revive stock speculators’ interest in the company by claiming it was on the brink of yet another breakthrough, such as with the vote by the Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors. At just such junctures, they would exploit the situation, selling off their own shares and engaging in profit taking. Today, at the opening bell, Cadiz stock was selling at $2.25 a share. At closing, it had fallen to $2.15.
Those infusions of investor capital have been used in other ways to advance the company’s prospects, or so its corporate officers have hoped. Scouting the political landscape, Cadiz, Inc. and its lobbyists have identified the elected officials who are in positions to either harm or help the company in achieving its goals. It then made massive donations to their political war chests.
One of those was Paul Cook. Another was Robert Lovingood.
After Cadiz, Inc. and several of its investors surfaced as major contributors to Cook’s congressional reelection campaign, in 2014 the Congressman flip-flopped and publicly stated that he was in favor of the project proceeding. Of note, working for Cook in 2014 as a member of his Congressional staff was Dawn Rowe. In 2018, when James Ramos, who succeeded Derry as Third District Supervisor, was elected to the California Assembly, the board of supervisors appointed Rowe to replace Ramos during his two remaining years as supervisor. Thereafter, Rowe was elected Third District supervisor in her own right in 2020, and was then reelected this year, in March. In 2020, Cook left Congress to successfully run for the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the First District, which extends into a portion of the East Mojave, which is also contained, in part, within the Third District. Cadiz, Inc. emerged over the years as a major donor to the campaigns of San Bernardino County supervisors Robert Lovingood, James Ramos, Janice Rutherford, Curt Hagman, Dawn Rowe and Paul Cook. Cadiz, Inc. has continued to support Ramos since he made the transition the the California Assembly. The company has made substantial political donations over the years, totaling at least $1.086 million.
In 2010, Cadiz, Inc. worked behind the scenes to create the Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company. In 2014, it further orchestrated the creation of the Fenner Valley Water Authority, a joint powers authority comprised of Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company, the Santa Margarita Water District and San Bernardino County.
Derry, who as a member of the board of supervisors had taken a stand against the Cadiz, Inc. water importation project, was defeated for reelection in 2012. Shortly thereafter, he went to work for Desmond & Louis Communications as the senior vice president of public affairs. In the run-up toward the formation of the Fenner Valley Water Authority in 2014, which carried with it the implication that San Bernardino County’s entire governmental structure was going to endorse the Cadiz, Inc. water transfer to Orange County, Cadiz, Inc. retained Desmond & Louis to represent it, at which point Derry found himself promoting the Cadiz Water project and remaining silent on the formation of the Fenner Valley Water Authority.
The Board of Supervisors in 2014, at that time consisting of Gary Ovitt, Josie Gonzales, Janice Rutherford, Robert Lovingood and James Ramos voted to form the Fenner Valley Water Authority, in so doing surrendering roughly one third of the authority over the groundwater supply in the Cadiz and Fenner valleys to the Orange County-based board of directors of the Santa Margarita Water District and one third of the authority over the groundwater in the Cadiz and Fenner Valleys to Cadiz, Inc., as the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company is essentially a creature of Cadiz, Inc.
During the four years the Trump Administration was in place, the federal government sought to streamline and lessen regulations pertaining to projects like the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project.
Congressman Cook, reelected in 2014, 2016 and 2018 in part by hefty donations from Cadiz, Inc., its corporate officers or its investors, intensified his efforts to promote the project. He appealed to Interior Secretary Zinke to excise the Cadiz Valley from the Mojave Trails National Monument proposal. Including that expanse as part of the National Monument introduced further regulations over diversion of the desert’s water assets out of the area. Ultimately, given Senator Feinstein’s pull and the resistance of other members of Congress along with employees within his own agency, Zinke did not inculde Cook’s suggestion in the Department of the Interior’s creation of the new monument.
In 2021, Susan Kennedy, who served as Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s chief of staff, Governor Gray Davis’s cabinet secretary, as a member of the California Public Utilities Commission and was the founder and chief executive officer of the energy company Advanced Microgrid Solutions before it was bought out by AES/Siemens in 2020, was appointed to the Cadiz, Inc. Board of Directors. She moved up to the position of executive chairwoman of the board just a few months later. In December 2023, Cadiz announced that Kennedy would succeed Slater as Cadiz’s chief executive officer and that Slater would move into a role as the company’s senior advisor.
The executive suite change knelled what the company claims will be the ultimate an final push to make good on the water exportation project. Under Kennedy, the company is taking a different approach. Prior to sending water to Orange County, which it yet intends to do, it hopes to remake its image by casting off the guise of an entity stealing water from the poor desert to give it to rich coastal communities. Rather, it will first take that water from the southeast Mojave Desert and send it via a new pipeline to the northwest Mojave.
Under Kennedy, the Cadiz Water Project is now being represented as “California first fully integrated groundwater conservation and storage project.”
While Kennedy headed the board of directors, the company followed through on a concept inaugurated by Slater in 2020, involving the purchase of pipelines from El Paso Natural Gas that had previously conveyed gas from the Texas and New Mexico gas fields to storage tanks. The idea replicates what Penn Phillips, the founder of modern Hesperia did in the 1950s when he used petroleum lines cannibalized from a dismantled oil field to serve as the water system for that community. The idea now is to use the fossil fuel pipelines Cadiz, Inc. has now taken possession to create an aqueduct running Kennedy says Cadiz’s new focus will initially be on converting an old natural gas pipeline running 86 miles from Cadiz to Barstow, carrying water that will be offloaded at various points along the way to desert communities in need of it or who are otherwise dependent on the state water project bringing water from up north. That method of slacking California’s thirst is beset with challenges, not the least of which is that the large amounts of water moving to the southern part of the state has deprived the abundant fertile growing regions in the central part of the state, such as the San Joaquin Valley, is threatening agricultural production there, particularly in the face of what was for nearly a decade an implacable drought.
At this point, Cadiz, Inc. is downplaying or seems to have forgotten about and has abandoned the ale of water – lots of it – to the Santa Margarita Water District. Those in the know say that is not actually the case but making it seem so is the latest wrinkle in the company’s strategy. What is actually going on is Cadiz corporate officers, led by Kennedy, are now focusing on removing water from the East Mojave just as before, but instead of sending it outside of the desert or outside of San Bernardino County, conveying it to the High Desert portion of the Mojave Desert, that being the communities in the Mojave River Valley communities of the Victor Valley – Hesperia, Apple Valley, Lucerne Valley, Victorville and Adelanto – as well as north-lying Barstow.
This wil accomplish two goals.
By being a party to using San Bernardino County Mojave Desert water for so-called beneficial use elsewhere in the Mojave Desert within San Bernardino County, Cadiz, Inc. will avoid being accused of stealing the poorer and drier region’s water for use by wealthier and wetter Orange County. This will provide the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project a moral and environmental legitimacy that for nearly decades has eluded it. As importantly, the drafting of tens of thousands or even more than a hundred thousand acre-feet of water on an annual basis will establish an actual water use pattern far greater than the limited water use that existed at the Cadiz Land Company and later Cadiz, Inc. farms for growing fruits and vegetable. That established pattern of water use can then be employed by Cadiz, Inc. first claiming and then securing, presumably through San Bernardino County Superior Court and the California Department of Water Resources the water rights to the water deep beneath the East Mojave.
Under Kennedy, Cadiz, Inc., having greased the skids with generous political donations and appealing to city governments which have seen their jurisdictions and communities struggling with a multi-year drought, is now lining up support for the importation of water originating in the Cadiz and Fenner valleys to them.
Opportunistically, with the death of Feinstein last September and what they see as the prospect that Donald Trump will return to office following the November 2024 election, Cadiz, Inc. corporate officers are accelerating efforts to put things in place and line up all that will be required for a renewed effort to commandeer the East Mojave’s water and sell it to Southern California’s coastal communities at a profit exceeding billions of dollars over the next century.
This week, on April 16, the Hesperia City Council proved to be the latest governing board in San Bernardino County to sign off on the Cadiz, Inc. game plan.
In a report written up by Hesperia Director of Public Works/City Engineer Cassandra Sanchez and delivered to the city council by Hesperia City Manager Rachel Molina, the council was told about the latest permutation of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project or that part of it not aimed at sending water to Orange County but rather to the Victor Valley and Barstow, a proposal referred to as the Mojave-San Bernardino One Water Project.
by and between the City of Hesperia and Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company. The City of Hesperia is part of an adjudicated water basin which is intended to remediate overdraft in the Mojave Basin Area by limiting the amount of water produced in specific subareas. The adjudication determines the free production allowance, which is the maximum amount of water a producer may pump in one year without incurring a replacement or make-up obligation. As a result of the judgment, the Hesperia Water District incurs replacement water obligations in the Alto Subarea when verified production
amounts exceed the free production allowance for the water year. Historically, the city and the Hesperia Water District may meet these replacement water obligations by three mechanisms:
1) Assignment of carryover right or temporary transfer of unused free production allowance (i.e. lease) from interested water rights owners in the respective subarea at negotiated rates (this is a cost effective short-term option to meeting the production demands);
2) Purchas[ing] water from the Mojave Basin Area Watermaster at the current per acre-foot water rate which is derived from the State Water Project water rates; and/or
3) Purchas[ing] permanent water rights from interested parties in the Alto Subarea at negotiated
rates. Purchase provides a long-term solution, but is costly and difficult to acquire.”
Water rights in the Mojave River Basin of the Mojave Desert were adjudicated as a consequence of a lawsuit filed by the City of Barstow in May 1990 in Barstow Superior Coourt against the Mojave River’s upstream users, including the cities of Adelanto, Victorville, Hesperia and the Town of Apple Valley, to which the Mojave Water Agency filed a cross-complaint. The matter was removed to Riverside Superior Court where the case was overseen by Riverside County Superior Court E. Michael Judge Kaiser. A judgment setting water rights was entered in 1996, followed by appeals from multiple impacted parties and the rights were set in their entirety in 2002.
The Alto Subarea encompasses most of the populous Victor Valley and its waters serve Summit Valley, Hesperia, Victorville, Adelanto, Apple Valley, Oak Hills, Phelan and Helendale.
The Hesperia Water District pre-existed the founding of the City of Hesperia in 1988 and remained an independent entity until it was subsumed by the City of Hesperia in 1994. At present the city’s water division draws its supply from 15 wells, all of which are within the city’s 73.21 square mile limits.
Sanchez’ and Molina’s April 16 report to the city council continues, “The Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company has approached the city with a potential fourth solution for the replacement water obligations by providing water from a currently undedicated water source to use toward groundwater basin replenishment. Using a new water supply from the Cadiz-Fenner Valley Watershed, the Cadiz Water Project has discussed a regional plan with the city, as well as other public agencies in the surrounding areas, and asked interested parties to sign a letter of intent to participate in the Mojave-San Bernardino One Water project. The Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company is a non-profit California mutual water company consisting of water providers participating in the Cadiz Water Project. The Cadiz Water Project is a water supply project that aims to transport water from the Cadiz and Fenner Valley, which is located approximately fifteen miles east of Amboy, California to the Greater Mojave Valley. Importantly, the Cadiz Water Project looks to capture and transport water that would otherwise be lost to evaporation and bring it to this region of San Bernardino County. The Cadiz Water Project will utilize the existing Northern Pipeline, which is a 220 mile pipeline that extends from the Fenner Valley west to Kern County and through Barstow.”
According to Sanchez and Molina, “The Mojave-San Bernardino One Water project will eventually work together in the design, development, construction and operation of water infrastructure facilities necessary to utilize this water in the Mojave Basin Area. The letter of intent will initiate Hesperia’s participation in the Mojave-San Bernardino One Water Project. This project will be a collaborative effort by participating agencies in the design, development, construction, and operation of water infrastructure facilities necessary to utilize all potential sources of water to create water security, climate resiliency and equitable distribution of water resources in Mojave Basin and other connected regions in San Bernardino County. By participating in the Mojave-San Bernardino One Water Project, the letter of intent offers the good faith delivery of up to 75,000 acre-feet of water to the City of Hesperia. It is recommended that the city council authorize the city manager to approve a letter of intent.”
The letter of intent stated the City of Hesperia wil participate with Apple Valley, Victroville, Adelanto and Barstow and the Fenner Gap Mutual Water Company in coordinating resources towards infrastructure for the delivery of the water.
Hesperia resident Al Vogler called the deal with the Fenned Gap Mutual Water Company “a many-years-old attempt by Cadiz Water to pump and move water over 200 miles.
The controversy of whether or not water evaporates from the surface of the Cadiz Dry Lake or in what quantity leaves the door open for many problems. Years ago, the County of San Bernardino capitulated their authority over San Bernardino County water in favor of Rancho Santa Margarita, a large conflict of interest. The issue of Fenner Gap water is so convoluted that I suggest a letter of intent not be issued, along with a $25,000 fee due to them by Hesperia. Instead, place a baloot item asking Hesperia voters if they are in favor of higher taxes. The six-year-old failure of the Hesperia reclaimed water plant must be tied in with Fenner water and the continuing approval of major water-using developments by the city. The reclaimed water plant cost $40 million, I believe, and it doesn’t work. Consider all: Who pays and who benefits? Taxpayers pay. There is almost no information in the agenda on how much money in fees and taxes will be paid for an operational Fenner water project by taxpayers over 40 years. In a time of major inflation and costs and the loss of thousands of jobs, I ask: How long already has the City of Hesperia been discussing Fenner water in private.”
After a discussion in which the Hesperia City Council noted that the Mojave Water Agency, which emerged as the watermaster as a consequence of the 1990-2002 water adjudication process had repeatedly “ramped down,” i.e., further limited the city’s water allotments under the adjudication, putting the city in the position of having to find more water sources.
Mayor Larry Bird said, “Water has been, is and will always will be the equivalent of gold in the desert community. Water is always required.”
Bird said the Mojave-San Bernardino One Water Project had the effect of “opening up new avenues [to obtain water after being ramped down.” He said the Mojave Water Agency’s reductions of the water available to the city under the adjudication is “outside our control. We can complain. We can stomp our feet but that is the reality. So, we do have to look for other water sources.” The council, with Bird, Councilman Cameron Gregg, Councilwoman Rebekah Swanson and Councilwoman Brigit Bennington present and Allison Lee absent, voted 4-to-0 to issue the letter of intent.

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