Cadiz Water Project Will Safeguard Environment | Commentary by Courtney Degener
SCVNEWS.COM | MONDAY, JUN 19, 2017
Last week, SCV News featured an opinion piece by Linda Castro of Santa Clarita about the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project (“Protect the Groundwater Beneath Our National Treasures,” June 15). I share with Ms. Castro the affection for the Cadiz Valley and agree it is a “postcard” of the California desert. However, I couldn’t disagree more with Castro’s description of the Cadiz Water Project and was deeply disappointed with the string of factual misrepresentations throughout the piece.
Cadiz Inc. is the largest private landowner in the Mojave Desert’s Cadiz Valley with more than 50 square miles of property. We’ve been farming there since the late 1980s using groundwater for irrigation and are a member of the local community. Our use of groundwater, a constant since 1993, is regulated by San Bernardino County, the public agency with authority over groundwater use in the Cadiz Valley.
It is true that we have also pursued a water supply project for our property to bring a new water supply to users throughout Southern California and to provide groundwater banking, as well. Santa Clarita, like many other Southern California cities, receives its water from the State Water Project, a system that brings water down from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – a system that is perpetually short of water and faces significant environmental concerns. Almost the entire Southern California region either relies on aquifers or imports from other sources to supply our people, businesses, agricultural and environmental uses. Even in a wet year, our traditional imported supplies are under stress and are projected to be unable to keep up with long-term demand.
The Cadiz Project aims to provide a supplemental supply and storage opportunity in Southern California for local water agencies. It would conserve water presently lost to high-salinity and evaporation at dry lake playas that serve as the only outflow of the vast Cadiz-Fenner watershed, which is 1,300 square miles and contains 17 million to 34 million acre-feet of water in storage. The project would capture less than 1 percent of the water in storage, or 50,000 acre-feet per year, to minimize this ongoing loss and provide new water in Southern California.
By effectively managing this vast basin under the oversight of San Bernardino County, the project also can offer “carry-over” storage capacity up to 150,000 acre-feet, plus 850,000 acre-feet of underground water storage of imported water through a second phase, still subject to additional environmental permitting.
As designed, the project will not adversely impact the environment, nor “drain,” “devastate” or “destroy” the desert. The project was independently reviewed by unpaid, highly respected scientists, then publicly reviewed under CEQA – our nation’s most stringent environmental law – and approved by public agencies.
Castro has alleged that all reviewers have been motivated by money, greed or unspoken loyalties to Cadiz, which is patently false and offensive, considering the reputation all enjoy as either reputable academics or elected officials. Further, their work and approvals have been validated in 12 separate court cases brought by various environmental organizations. In each case, all claims against the project were rejected. The project, its approvals and its extensive groundwater management plan were upheld by an independent judge and a unanimous panel of the California Court of Appeal.
The state and local permitting processes incorporated the input of the public and local, state and federal agencies. All concerns were addressed, mitigated, and the project plan altered to respond to these comments.
One common concern during this process related to the amount of recharge to the groundwater system and the sort of impacts the project might have if the estimates are incorrect. The USGS did not comment on the project, but many opposition groups often cite the USGS’ very low estimates published in the year 2000 as part of an environmental review of a different project. These USGS estimates were never updated for the current project nor to account for any site-specific measurements conducted on site over the past 10 years.
While the USGS did not participate in the review of the current Cadiz Project, hydrologists did utilize a USGS model published years later to estimate recharge in the Cadiz Valley. This model, conducted in 2010, included site-specific measurements and was peer-reviewed by the former director of the USGS. The estimates were then corroborated further still by physically measured evaporation – data not available in 2000 – collected as part of the CEQA review process.
However, despite strong confidence in the numbers, for the avoidance of doubt, the public agencies that reviewed the project assessed the potential for impacts assuming the project’s recharge numbers are off by 85 percent and limited the project based on such an assumption. The County of San Bernardino then also imposed a floor on operations so that if we are wrong and the basin doesn’t recharge in the amounts we expect, then the project could be shut down.
Groundwater is a precious resource, which is why the county put in place such provisions and why our project will abide them. We’ve relied on groundwater for 25 years in the basin with absolutely no impacts, and our groundwater levels are at their highest measurements despite sustained use. Importantly, the plan also incorporated provisions of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to support the new statewide policy. Claims made by opponents to the contrary simply are not true.
In today’s heated political climate, it’s an easy rallying cry to assign the project with partisan labels and continue to assert disproven environmental impacts. But it truly is a false narrative. This project is supported by elected officials from both sides of the aisle, has successfully completed eight years of review under California law and local county ordinances, and will protect the desert we’ve called home for 30 years.
These are the facts. You can learn more at www.cadizwaterproject.com.