San Bernardino Sun: It’s Time to Build Cadiz Water project | OP-ED, by Mayor Frank Ury

On May 10, a California Court of Appeal upheld an earlier Superior Court dismissal of litigation challenging the Cadiz Water Project. The Cadiz, Inc. plan to conserve water that’s currently evaporating in the Mojave Desert would deliver new water to our communities in south Orange County as well as five other Southern California counties. After years of court challenges, the project’s opponents were told their arguments simply don’t hold water.

If this brings an end to court challenges, as it should, the Cadiz Water Project still must check off two boxes before it can begin to provide Southern Californians with enough water to meet the annual needs of some 400,000 people.

First, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California needs to sign off on how Cadiz water will enter its Colorado River Aqueduct, and set the standards for the quality of the water. Santa Margarita Water District, the lead public agency, is working with Metropolitan on these matters, as the water agency with responsibility to deliver the water to the end users in Metropolitan’s system.

It is relatively simple engineering to design a connection that protects aqueduct operations. There is clearly available capacity in the aqueduct, as all climate change and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation models show Colorado River supplies diminishing. In fact, Metropolitan’s resource plan calls for the development of supplemental supplies to keep the aqueduct full.

On quality, it is clear that Metropolitan will regulate the water quality in its system to protect the 19 million people who drink the water. As a matter of fact, Cadiz’s water quality is excellent. Its very low salt content can also provide significant benefits, as Colorado River water is relatively salty. The only constituent in Cadiz water that even slightly exceeds state regulatory levels is Chromium 6 (Cr6), a naturally occurring chemical that is present in a significant number of California’s groundwater basins.

In response to this Cr6 circumstance, Santa Margarita and Cadiz worked with water treatment technology firms to develop a system that will remove and lower Cr6 to undetectable levels before Cadiz water enters Metropolitan’s facilities. With this technology, Santa Margarita, Cadiz and the project’s participants can meet their commitment to meet all of Metropolitan’s water quality standards.

Secondly, to move forward, the Project also must resolve a dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management. Cadiz plans to run a pipeline from its well field to the aqueduct in a railroad right of way in order to avoid impacts created by a direct route across federal lands. This clearance should be automatic. Thousands of miles of energy, water and telecommunications infrastructure are already in railroad rights of way throughout the West. Historically, BLM has not involved itself in the railroads’ granting of access, because federal policy encourages co-location of utility infrastructure in these rights of way. Unfortunately, this particular sign-off is proving to be anything but routine because one project opponent in Washington, D.C., has succeeded in using political earmarks to force the BLM to evaluate this right-of-way use.

As a result, the Cadiz project is receiving unequal treatment. It has been delayed for years even though it clearly meets the criteria set forth by the federal government for railroad right-of-way use. The result isn’t only the delay of a much-needed new water supply. The politicization of the BLM’s process has called into question the legitimacy of all similar infrastructure co-locations in the West, creating significant concerns from the railroads as well as the utilities, energy and communications companies.

The project’s opponents are employing this tactic to try to manufacture cause for a federal environmental review. Such a review is unnecessary where there is no permit nexus, but also it should be noted that federal environmental law is weaker than the California laws with which the project complies. Aside from all that, an earlier, more impactful iteration of the Cadiz project was reviewed by the BLM in 2002 and approved.

Having a reliable, environmentally sensitive and sustainable water supply is too important to our southern California communities these days for these delays. With two approvals by local government agencies and two confirmations of those approvals by California’s legal system, it’s time to end the games in Washington so we can begin supplementing supplies with Cadiz water. As the mayor of Mission Viejo whose community is served by the agency that led the Cadiz environmental review, I encourage my colleagues and water users throughout Southern California to let our elected officials know that we need their support in solving water supply challenges — not political manipulations.

Frank Ury is mayor of Mission Viejo.

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