The creation of California’s water supply and delivery system generations ago was a feat of innovation and engineering that allowed the state to become one of the most desired places in the country to live today. For decades, these traditional supplies supported the competing demands of our diverse population, but over time they have become stretched by drought, population growth and climate change. Today, many communities are struggling to determine how they will meet future water needs; some are already unable to provide for present ones. Our changing water needs are serious and no laughing matter.
To address these challenges, state leaders and agencies have encouraged a variety of solutions such as new supply and infrastructure investments, conservation, regulation and water markets.
One local San Bernardino County option that will sustainably provide reliable water to communities in Southern California is the Cadiz Water Project. By conserving water presently used for agriculture or lost to evaporation at the base of a desert watershed, it will make available a new water supply for400,000 people. It will also create and support 6,000 jobs and generate nearly $6 billion in long-term economic benefits. The Project has earned wide support from local residents, businesses, community groups and elected officials. A recent poll of San Bernardino County voters found 74% supported the project and reliable water supplies that can be managed locally.
Project facilities, including a conveyance pipeline to bring water conserved at Cadiz to the region’s water infrastructure system, will be built entirely on private land or buried alongside active railroad tracks to avoid any impacts to public, undisturbed desert lands, tribal lands or protected species.
Careful management of the desert’s groundwater resources are also a central project objective. Cadiz overlies an extensive groundwater aquifer system, larger than Lake Mead – the nation’s largest surface reservoir. Precipitation that falls in the surrounding mountains annually recharges this vast system and over time migrates to dry lake playas below sea level where it currently evaporates. By managing the basin at Cadiz, the Project will minimize these losses and create a reliable new water supply and underground storage.
Importantly, operations will occur at the end of the system after plants, animals, wildlife and springs have taken what they need from the vast watershed. Groundwater that reaches Cadiz is over 200 feet below ground, out of the root zone of plants, and too deep to be tapped by animals. Springs, which do support wildlife, are not located at the Valley floor where the Project will be operated. The nearest spring is over 11 miles away and 1,000 feet above Cadiz, separated by geologic faults that make it impossible for water in the aquifer to be drawn up through unsaturated soils to sustain it.
A primary feature of theProject is its Court-approved groundwater management plan that will be enforced by San Bernardino County. The plan will continually check groundwater levels across the watershed throughout the project’s lifespan. It includes a “hard floor” to operations and demands prompt adjustments before any adverse impact could occur.
These protections are a product of the permitting process conducted in accordance with California Environmental Quality Act, recognized as the most stringent environmental law in the U.S., and separate review conducted by the County. Local, state and federal agencies, tribes and many others participated and commented during the process, and all comments were addressed. While the Project hasn’t required federal permits, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) included extra analysis to ensure that all provisions of federal environmental laws were thoroughly evaluated. Opponents challenged the EIR and the County management plan in Court in 12 separate cases, but in each case the approvals were upheld, and every claim rejected.
Yet, despite having failed to convince two public agencies and four judges that the protections included in the approval of the project are not sufficient, some project opponents are now actively lobbying elected officials and paying for operatives to organize opposition to try and disrupt implementation. Running a campaign that ignores the project’s scientific foundation, ongoing protections and legal victories, they’d like distant politicians and bureaucrats to overrule local groundwater management and California’s Courts.
Unfortunately, such an outcome does little to improve our state’s failing infrastructure and is a pattern of behavior that is designed to deprive Californians the benefits of a reliable water supply. It doesn’t protect the environment. It makes water less affordable and available, supports waste, and impacts our disadvantaged communities who are often harmed most by the lack of reliability.
Cadiz is a local desert business, with a record of sustainable groundwater management. We’re committed to do no harm to the desert where we’ve operated for 30 years. We’ve demonstrated our private stewardship for these important natural resources by engaging in sustainable farming practices and setting aside 7,500 acres for desert tortoise conservation on our land in the neighboring Piute Watershed. We welcome dialogue with any local tribe or resident to improve outcomes from project implementation. Working together we can resolve the water challenges that affect us all.
By: Courtney Degener, Vice President of External Affairs, Cadiz Inc.