Editorial: State drier than we have to be

Water recovery project could ease drought.


March 10, 2014

Despite the recent heavy rain, California’s water situation remains dire. Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows that 100 percent of California is “abnormally dry.”

It is the worst drought the state has seen in decades and is tapping our water resources to their limits, and, for many, beyond. Water agencies in some of the hardest-hit regions of the state are expecting to be without water by the summer.

It’s why Gov. Jerry Brown promised to do, “everything that is humanly possible to allow for a flexible use of California’s water sources.”

But the state still seems bent on pushing ahead with water policies that appear to make the drought artificially worse, from the New Deal-style public-works Bay Delta Conservation Plan boondoggle that seeks to upend the Sacramento Delta for dubious water supplies and the benefit of a bait fish, the Delta smelt, to projects closer to home.

Projects like the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, meant to capture groundwater from a basin within a 1,300-square-mile watershed in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert.

The company argues that pumping out 50,000 acre-feet of water per year from under the desert, which would otherwise largely evaporate, would save Southern California $6.1 billion over a 50-year period and could provide 100,000 Southern California families, in six counties, another supply of water every year.

But, environmental groups, and a Texas-based oil company with a nearby strip-mining facility, continue to fight the Cadiz project through the courts using the state’s oppressive CEQA rules.

Nearby ranchers worry the pumping stations could deplete their wells and environmental groups say the water would be pumped out faster than it could be replenished. While these issues should be taken seriously, as it would be preferable to not deplete a new water supply as fast as it’s tapped, they have largely been mitigated by the process.

Because San Bernardino County is requiring even more stringent rules than came out of the two-year CEQA process. Requiring the company to track its operations, and if the water level is reduced 80 feet below the current water table, within a 2-mile radius of the project center, the project would be halted. Independent and final authority to enforce that rule rests with the county.

In all, four municipal agencies and two private utilities have signed on to the project, including some agencies that reside in southern Orange County. The project developers seem to have done their due diligence and efforts to expand and diversify water sources for residents of the Southland, which this project appears to do, is something these editorial pages have long supported. The government-created barriers to tapping water sources like this must change and this project be allowed to go forward undeterred.


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