11 Apr Letter to the Editor: Cadiz Water Project for Water, Jobs and the Environment By Courtney Degener
April 10, 2018
Last month’s article, “Cadiz Controversy, Is the environment at risk?” left out critical information about the Cadiz Water Project and allowed untrue claims by project opponents to go unchecked. As a result, the story established a false choice for your readers between the Project’s “water and jobs” on one side and desert environmental protection on the other.
It is true the Cadiz Water Project will provide new water for up to 400,000 people and generate 6,000 jobs, including jobs for local unions and veterans. But, the Project is not simply water and jobs; its most paramount goal is to be environmentally benign and the record reflects that commitment. Here are some important facts about the Project that opponents often ignore, but your readers should know:
1. Cadiz Inc. is Home to San Bernardino County’s Largest Agricultural Operation
Cadiz Inc. was founded in 1983 and owns more than 45,000 acres of land with water rights in eastern San Bernardino County. We’ve farmed in the Cadiz Valley for nearly 30 years, relying on groundwater to irrigate various crops such as lemons and grapes. In addition to our farming operations, we own the largest desert tortoise land conservation bank permitted in California, which is managed in partnership with the San Diego Habitat Conservancy and San Diego Zoo.
2. The Cadiz Water Project will Conserve Water Presently Wasted to Evaporation
Cadiz lies at the base of a 1,300 square mile watershed that contains 17-34 million acre-feet of water in storage underground–more water than in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir. Groundwater comes from precipitation that falls in the surrounding mountains, which rise over 7,000 feet in elevation. Each year, approximately 32,000 acre-feet (10.4 billion gallons) recharges the system and ultimately reaches the base of the watershed, at an area called Dry Lakes that are below sea level and ten times saltier than the Pacific Ocean.
Groundwater that reaches the Dry Lakes wicks up through their crusty surface and evaporates every day. While farming, we observed this ongoing loss and proposed better managing the basin to control the losses, provide new water for beneficial uses and a location for storage of surplus water. This became the objective of the Cadiz Water Project.
3. The Cadiz Water Project Received Rigorous California Environmental Review & San
Bernardino County Holds the Keys
The Project was reviewed and approved by two California local public agencies–including the often-overlooked County of San Bernardino–in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an environmental law considered more stringent than any federal equivalent law. The review concluded that operations would have no significant impacts on the environment. The County also approved a strict groundwater management plan that limits operations to a precise hard floor below the water table so that the basin is always safely operated. The provisions of the management plan are “above and beyond” the strict requirements of CEQA, but were imposed by the County under its local groundwater management laws. Nearly all of the Inland Empire relies on groundwater to supply its communities, schools, hospitals and businesses, and the County is a leader in local groundwater management.
4. The Project’s Environmental Review, Approvals and Permits were Upheld by California’s Courts
The Project’s CEQA and County approvals were challenged by conservation groups in 12 separate state court cases. In 2014, the Superior Court trial court upheld all Project approvals and denied every claim. Then, in 2016, a three-justice panel of the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, unanimously sustained the trial court findings and again upheld all project approvals against the claims of Project opponents. In the end, after four years of review by independent justices in California’s Courts, not one page of the Project’s 20,000-page record was overturned, and the Project prevailed against every case. The Project followed the law and will not harm the environment when it provides conserved water to families in Southern California.
5. The Cadiz Project Is Not Located on any Public Lands or National Park, Preserve or
All of the Cadiz Water Project facilities will be built entirely on private land and within existing corridors, including the Project’s water conveyance pipeline that will be built alongside an existing, active railroad right-of- way connecting our property with Southern California’s water distribution system. The Project will provide water and power created by the pipeline to the railroad and will also make possible a tourist steam train operation and cultural center to be based in Cadiz offering new tourism opportunities for the desert. None of our facilities will not be constructed on any public lands, including National Park, Preserve or Monument lands.
6. Benefits of the Cadiz Project are Devoted to San Bernardino and the Desert
When the Project began its public review phase, we pledged that its benefits would specifically help the local area not only be realized region wide. Inland Empire economist John Husing has estimated that the Project will create and support 6,000 jobs and generate close to $1 billion in economic impacts. As part of our pledge, we reserved 20 percent of water made available by the Project for San Bernardino County-based water agencies, plus an additional one-time 25,000 acre-feet delivery anywhere in the County. We also committed to reserve 50 percent of jobs created for County residents, including 10 percent for local veterans, and 80 percent of the Project’s capital investment for local businesses. We are already working with labor unions and water infrastructure suppliers to make that promise a reality. Over the long-term, the Project is expected to contribute $5.4 million every year to San Bernardino County’s budget, including $613,000 for the Needles Unified School District.
The Cadiz Water Project is a County, CEQA and Court-approved project that will create new water for local communities and jobs for thousands, but in a safe and sustainable way. We are proud that the project is an example of how environmental protection and prosperity can go hand in hand.