By Winston H. Hickox
Winston H. Hickox, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a principal with the consulting firm California Strategies. He is responding to the April 13 Viewpoints article, “Plan to tap groundwater for profit shows need for better state policy.” That article stated: “The bottom line is that the project relies on unsustainable mining of groundwater, designed to extract groundwater at a rate exceeding natural recharge.”
As the former secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the Cadiz Inc. board of directors, I felt compelled to respond to John Bredehoeft and Newsha Ajami’s mischaracterizationof the Cadiz Valley Water Project and California groundwater policy.
California faces many water challenges. Northern California supplies are environmentally challenged. Our erratic climate has long droughts. Water rates are escalating. Water agencies are exploring projects to improve supply reliability, including groundwater projects in partnership with private companies.
Cadiz Inc. is a publicly traded company that owns 70 square miles of land in San Bernardino County, including 34,000 acres in the Cadiz Valley. The company has maintained an organic agriculture operation there for more than 20 years utilizing groundwater for irrigation.
This property is located at the base of a 1,300-square-mile, sparsely populated Mojave Desert watershed that contains 17 million to 34 million acre-feet of water – a quantity on par with Lake Mead or Lake Tahoe– but it is not and has never been a surface water system. This water is deep below ground, beyond the reach of plant and animal life. It slowly marches downhill from the mountains and ultimately to dry lakes where it becomes saline and evaporates.
Over three years, Cadiz has invested more than $10 million in scientific analysis to understand these groundwater resources. Working with the best science and policy experts, the project was designed following proven groundwater basin management practices to safely and sustainably put a small portion of the water – less than 1 percent of the system per year – to beneficial municipal use.
This is a goal supported by statewide water policy and recognized in the California Constitution. A key project design feature is a state-of-the-art groundwater monitoring program, which follows the highest groundwater policy standards long championed by the environmental community. It would be imposed as part of any permit for the project.
Cadiz has been a part of the desert community for more than two decades and intends to remain, investing locally in a region hard hit by economic decline.
The project would create much-needed jobs and bring new tax revenue and stimulus throughout the local economy.
This public-private partnership takes advantage of the private sector’s ability to aggregate and utilize capital to provide for much-needed municipal water supplies, and eliminates upfront risk for the ratepayers and taxpayers.
To not support this project would be a monumental failure of statewide water policy.