News: Op-Ed – (San Bernardino Sun) Sustainable Solutions to California’s Water Problem

For the past several years the state of California has worked to ensure that water supplies are available to meet demand. This effort has been complex and complicated by drought as well as systematic restrictions on all of the state’s primary water supplies.

During my time as the secretary of California’s Environmental Protection Agency, I worked hard to implement environmentally sound policies to address many of California’s most pressing environmental challenges, including water supply. While conservation has been crucial in helping to curb growth in water demand, most water policy experts agree that reducing demand alone will not be enough to meet the California’s future water needs. We need new supplies.

After leaving government service in the mid-2000s, I joined the Board of Directors of Cadiz Inc., a publicly-traded company that owns 70 square miles of land with significant groundwater resources in eastern San Bernardino County. The company has maintained an organic agriculture operation at its property in the Cadiz Valley for over 20 years and has pursued water supply, groundwater storage and more recently clean energy projects. I became a part of Cadiz largely because they demonstrated a commitment to implementing these projects in an environmentally responsible way.

Today Cadiz is working with water providers to develop the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, which will offer Southern California significant new groundwater storage capacity and a reliable annual supply of water. The project has been designed according to proven groundwater basin management practices, and Cadiz has invested in an exhaustive scientific and technical analysis to gain the best understanding of the project and its impact on the environment. These studies have confirmed that there is a vast quantity of water in storage in the watersheds surrounding the project area – a quantity on par with Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir – and that billions of gallons in annual natural recharge is currently evaporating from nearby dry lakes, which could be put to beneficial use.

In designing the project, environmental protection has been paramount. Working with a first-in-class team of groundwater experts from a broad range of disciplines, Cadiz and the project’s participants have designed the project with two principles in mind: 1) to ensure that the environment is protected; and 2) that the groundwater basin is managed to maximize the beneficial use of water. A key design feature of the project is a state-of-the-art groundwater monitoring program, which follows a high standard for groundwater monitoring long championed by the environmental community. We believe this program can serve as a model for groundwater basins up and down the state.

The CEQA Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project is currently out for public comment. Water projects, and development projects in general, are sometimes difficult to support, but the goals here are highly laudable and the science is sound. I commend the participants for their effort to bring forward this local water supply/storage solution in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way in order to help secure the region’s future. I hope all Californians will too.

Winston H. Hickox, the former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, and former Special Assistant to the Gov. Jerry Brown for Environmental Affairs, is currently a principal with the consulting firm California Strategies.

San Bernardino Sun
by Winston Hickox

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