This is a thirsty state. Having recently survived the severe 2011-17 drought, California now is in the second year of a new drought that began in 2020. We need every drop we can get, from whatever source.
Yet efforts continue to prevent tapping a new source I have been writing about for a decade: the Cadiz Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project out in the Mojave Desert.
What is Cadiz? As the Santa Margarita Water District described it: “The Cadiz Water Project will provide a new Southern California water supply by actively managing a groundwater basin that is part of a 1,300-square-mile watershed in eastern San Bernardino County.
“Water that would otherwise evaporate will be collected and conserved for beneficial use. The project will then convey the conserved water to SMWD and to other Southern California water agencies to enhance their water supply reliability. A future phase of the project could include the ability to store water underground in the Cadiz aquifer so that it could be used during dry years.
“SMWD will purchase at least 5,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Cadiz Water Project. The 5,000 acre-feet of water represents approximately 20 percent of the District’s overall water supply.
“The Cadiz Water Project underwent an extensive environmental review spanning nearly two years which found that project operations would cause no significant impacts to the environment. Under the criteria of the California Environmental Quality Act, SMWD served as the lead agency for the project’s environmental review.”
The Washington Post also wrote an article on Cadiz, reporting, “An estimated 100,000 households could be customers during the project’s initial 50-year term, which would generate billions of dollars in revenue for the company.”
Clogging the System
Cadiz received all necessary federal and state approvals, including under both the Obama and Trump administrations. Unfortunately, it has run into increased opposition from two powerful sources that have opposed it for two decades: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior Democratic senator, and Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times columnist.
In 2016, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana upheld six lower court decisions concerning the project and the environment, giving it a green light. Feinstein replied the decision “changes nothing.”
Wes May, executive director of the Engineering Contractors’ Association, replied to Feinstein in the Desert Sun: “[I]t must be clearly stated, the Cadiz Water Project has not ‘bypassed’ federal environmental review. There is no federal permitting nexus. Co-locating infrastructure in a railroad right of way is commonplace in the West and good public policy, but by no means an avoidance of review. … The [California Environmental Quality Act] review identified not one ‘devastating’ or ‘grave’ impact to the preserve or any other desert resource. Indeed, the project considered the concerns Sen. Feinstein raised years ago and it was carefully designed to purposely avoid any impacts.”
Feinstein is the former mayor of San Francisco, which enjoys its own exclusive water supply from the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir. She opposes environmentalists’ demands that the dam and reservoir be removed, restoring the area to its pristine state. As mayor in 1987, she said, “All this is for an expanded campground? … It’s dumb, dumb, dumb.” But why can’t she see extreme environmental mania is also behind the opposition to Cadiz?
As to Hiltzik, Cadiz told me he made no attempt to contact the company for their side of the story before his Dec. 6 attack, headlined, “Has Biden moved to finally kill California’s most farcical water project?”
He wrote, “The company continues to exploit the California drought to push a project that experts have long held to be useless as a drought-fighting measure.”
That’s just silly. As noted above, the Santa Margarita district said it could use the water for 20 percent of its customers. And the Washington Post pegged the total number of people served at “an estimated 100,000.”
Hiltzik also wrote, “Cadiz also has faced lawsuits from environmental groups, as well as adverse rulings by the Bureau of Land Management, an arm of the Interior Department with oversight of federal lands, including those the proposed pipelines would cross.”
Cadiz provided me this reply, which Hiltzik could have asked for: “Cadiz has won every lawsuit in California courts challenging the Cadiz Water Project since the time Mr. Hiltzik began reporting. We can provide every judicial finding. Cadiz has also won favorable rulings in federal court. In 2018, while a court remanded a decision to the BLM for further documentation, it did not disagree with the agency’s original decision and did not overturn it. Mr. Hiltzik omits these facts intentionally or due to his own failure to conduct any research or fact checking. We request these rulings in favor of Cadiz be included and clarified.”
Cadiz also provided replies to the other allegations Hiltzik made, which he also could have had for the asking.