Op-Ed: Stop delaying SB County water project: Guest commentary

San Bernardino Sun
By Alex Artiaga, Paul Granillo and John Husing

05/15/15 – In the midst of the deepening and historic California drought, one message is clear — we have no water to waste. Mandatory cutbacks of up to 36 percent have hit every corner of the state, and have impacted inland counties like San Bernardino particularly hard.

Experts recently testified before the State Water Resources Control Board that such dramatic cutbacks could threaten California’s economic recovery by forcing employers to flee to states with more reliable water supplies. While shorter showers and brown lawns can help us through the immediate crisis, there is no question that in addition to increasing our conservation efforts, we must take a serious look at new long-term, reliable water supplies to help continue the promise of the Golden State.

One such solution locally is the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project, which will conserve billions of gallons of water that would otherwise evaporate, so it can be put to beneficial use. A public-private partnership, the Cadiz project would deliver enough water to Southern California for 100,000 families every year, for 50 years. Countering fears of lost jobs from the drought, the project will create and support 5,800 jobs during construction, 50 percent of which are promised to San Bernardino County residents. It will also generate millions of dollars for local schools and municipalities.

Yet its construction is being delayed by the Center for Biological Diversity, whose founder has said he intends to use water restrictions to slow growth in the West.

In 2012, the Cadiz water project was approved by two public agencies including San Bernardino County under the tough requirements of the California Environmentally Quality Act, which is considered one of the most stringent environmental laws in the U.S. These approvals — and the court decision throwing out all the challenges against them — show that the Cadiz project can operate without harming the environment, and without over-pumping the Cadiz aquifer.

Recently the CBD, which is known for filing hundreds of lawsuits challenging infrastructure projects, issued a press release covered in The Sun about its intent to move ahead with its appeal of the project’s approvals. While filing such challenges is a valued right under our legal system, the misrepresentations CBD made in its announcement should not go unanswered, beginning with its portrayal of the project as “water mining.”

Mining is a valuable contributor to San Bernardino’s economy, but the CBD is dead wrong in calling the Cadiz project “water mining.” Mining permanently removes a resource, but the Cadiz project sustainably taps a small portion of a renewable aquifer in a carefully monitored process, saving water that is currently lost to evaporation — that is more accurately described as “conservation.”

Rather than recognize our need for reliable water supplies, CBD curtly dismisses the Cadiz project as a gateway to sprawl in “wealthy Orange County.” Actually, 20 percent of the project’s water is earmarked for San Bernardino County and water providers from the Inland Empire and all over Southern California have signed up to purchase Cadiz water. This surging demand is an indicator of short supply in all communities, not just the coast. In such dire times, we can do without the CBD’s false “us v. them” narrative.

Cadiz invested $10 million in the scientific studies to design a sustainable, low-impact project that can withstand the sort of “delay at all costs” environmental litigation we see too often in California. As a result, the company and its public-sector partners have one of the few nearly shovel-ready solutions to the region’s systemic water challenges.

Rather than praise the company for its environmental sensitivity, including a recent set-aside of land for desert tortoise, CBD uses false claims about impacts that don’t exist — like the fable about the project causing desert springs to dry up, even though the springs are hundreds of feet above the aquifer and miles away from the pumps’ location.

False arguments generally don’t win appeals, but it’s a nice tactic to delay a project’s implementation a bit longer. Unfortunately, that means postponing the much-needed protection a reliable, sustainable new water supply can provide for our economy … and our very lives.

Alex Artiaga is business manager of Laborers International Union of North America, Local 783. Paul Granillo is president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP). John Husing, Ph.D., is chief economist of IEEP.

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