01 Jul Three Valleys MWD Approves Multidisciplinary Study to Investigate Springs Surrounding Cadiz, Resolve Any Lingering Debate with Data
On June 19, the Board of Directors of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, which is considering participating in the Cadiz Water Project, acted to bring a definitive, science-based answer to questions about possible impacts of the Project on the Mojave Desert’s natural mountain springs.
The Three Valleys Board unanimously approved launching a multidisciplinary, data assessment study designed to bring all stakeholders to the table to design a work plan for future scientific work to resolve any doubt about the degree of hydrological connection between springs in the Fenner Valley watershed and the aquifer below.
“The Cadiz Project offers a needed new supply of water for our region and it is important to us that it is also sustainable,” Three Valleys Board President Bob Kuhn said in a press release issued by the agency. He added that the year-long undertaking will lead to “the bottom-line science on whether the Cadiz project and the spring are connected and, by involving our state and federal partners and environmental stakeholder groups in the process, we can be sure we have exercised due diligence and resolved any lingering questions about this scientific question.”
About the Springs
Besides state and federal agencies, environmentalist stakeholders who have been active in opposing the Project will be invited to participate to ensure their voices are heard and so their approaches can be included in the study.
Anthony Brown, a hydrologist who has led hydrological research efforts for Three Valleys over the last year, encouraged widespread participation during a presentation at the Three Valleys Board Meeting on June 19: “I’m a scientist and would love, as a scientist, for science to prevail on the Cadiz project.”
Brown has been aware of the Bonanza Spring hydrology issue for a number of years, initially retained by one of the then-project opponents then as an unpaid peer reviewer. As a consultant he has done extensive work for the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental NGOs on other matters and is universally well-respected.
Representatives of the National Parks Conservation Association, despite having previously voiced concern about a potential connection between the springs and the Project, were noncommittal about their interest in participating in this multidisciplinary process. In comments delivered at the board meeting, they challenged the objectivity of Brown and the funding of the project by the Fenner Valley Water Authority, which would use funds provided by Cadiz. Kuhn encouraged them to participate and added, “If you would like to help fund the project, we will gladly accept the funds.”
Funding of studies by project applicants via reimbursement arrangements is customarily relied upon by public agencies in California to reduce impacts on taxpayers and ratepayers. To ensure fairness, applicants do not select the consultants, nor do they direct, design or carry out these types of evaluations. Ironically, the project opponents are proposing that Cadiz fund research related to new California state permitting that would be required under a bill they support, SB 307, without any similar concerns.
Although the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the County of San Bernardino’s review of the Project have already developed and imposed extensive conditions to avoid harm to the mountain springs, the Company is supportive of the Three Valleys study. The Company has already embraced 50 years of future reporting with oversight by the County of San Bernardino and believes that adding to the scientific knowledge base and improving public confidence in both the Project and its avoidance of potential impacts is in its best interest.
“We embrace the scientific method,” said Cadiz CEO Scott Slater. “Our Project’s design is based on verifiable, measurable facts and sound science. Our operations will be managed accordingly, in compliance with the open and transparent groundwater management plan, with review and enforcement by San Bernardino County.”
Slater encouraged interested stakeholders to participate in the study. “Three Valleys is attempting to give all science-based perspectives the opportunity to develop the highest level of confidence in the data, facts and the efficacy of the groundwater management strategy. California needs more reliable water that is derived from projects that protect and preserve flora and fauna – which in this instance means those that are dependent upon the Bonanza and other desert springs.”
The Cadiz Environmental Impact Report studied the possibility of a hydrological connection between the aquifer and Bonanza Spring and other springs in the Fenner Valley watershed and concluded they are hydraulically separated so Project operations would have no significant impact on them. Bonanza Spring, for example, is 11 miles from the Project wellfield, over 1,000 feet above the valley floor and separated by fractured rock that would make any up-flow of water from the aquifer impossible. In 12 separate court cases, California courts upheld the Cadiz EIR.
San Bernardino County, in enforcing its Desert Groundwater Ordinance, imposed a Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) on the Project designed to protect the aquifer and the springs through ongoing monitoring and active management. The Plan specifically protects Bonanza Spring by requiring that pumping not cause groundwater levels at the wellfield to drop by more than 80 feet. At the wellfield, the aquifer is more than 1,000 feet deep.
Environmentalist opponents have continued to express concern of a hydrological connection between the springs and the Project wellfield, and in 2018 presented two studies by Andy Zdon et. al., which werefunded by the Mojave Desert Land Trust and published in on-line journals. The studies used chemical analysis to theorize hydrological connections between springs and the aquifer, possibly from higher elevations of the aquifer through the Clipper Mountains in the case of Bonanza Spring.
Also in 2018, a Cadiz-funded study by Mojave Desert geologist Miles Kenney and hydrologist Terry Foreman identified two faults exhibiting evidence of being groundwater barriers that converge at the point where Bonanza Spring surfaces. By tracking the mountain geology above the converging faults, they identified a catchment area extending four miles uphill from the spring, concluding that the area is sufficient to provide an ongoing water source because of the porous, fractured rock formations in the area, and disproves connection with the aquifer below.
Earlier this year, Brown led a panel of four independent hydrologists appointed by Three Valleys to conduct a review of the efficacy of the GMMMP in protecting the spring. The panel concluded that sufficient protections are in place through the Plan and mitigations incorporated into the EIR. Saying they were acting “in an abundance of caution,” they also presented 12 recommendations for further study to provide a robust scientific data collection that would further ensure that the spring would be protected.
Those recommendations will be the starting point of the year-long multidisciplinary study approved by Three Valleys on June 19, 2019. The study’s purpose is to review those recommendations, solicit additional suggestions from stakeholders, and design a study plan that will lead to collection of sufficient data to support a scientifically sound determination of the presence, or lack of, hydrological connectivity between the spring and the aquifer.
Cadiz EIR Hydrology section: https://www.smwd.com/230/Cadiz-Project-Final-EIR-Volumes-1-7
Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan: https://www.smwd.com/DocumentCenter/View/253/Appendix-B1-Groundwater-Management-Monitoring-and-Mitigation-Plan-PDF
Andy Zdon, et. al., “Understanding the source of water for selected springs within Mojave Trails National Monument, California: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15275922.2018.1448909?journalCode=uenf20
Zdon, et. al., “Use of Radiocarbon ages to narrow groundwater recharge estimates in the Southeastern Mojave Desert, USA”: https://www.mdpi.com/2306-5338/5/3/51
David K. Kreamer: Review of “Use of Radiocarbon ages to narrow groundwater recharge estimates in the Southeastern Mojave Desert, USA:” https://www.fvwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Dr.-Kreamers-Review-of-Sept.-2018-Love-and-Zdon-Report_Final.pdf
Miles Kenney “Updated Assessment of Cadiz Water Project’s Potential Impacts to Bonanza Spring:” https://www.cadizwaterproject.com/2018-bonanza-spring-study/
Report of the Independent Peer Review Panel for the Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) for the Cadiz Project: https://www.fvwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Aquilogic-Report-Cadiz-Project-Overview-2-19.pdf
Three Valleys staff report for 6/19/19 board meeting (page 225): https://www.threevalleys.com/uploads/files/meetings/2019%20Board%20Packets/190619%20Board%20Packet%20-%20Regular%20Meeting.pdf
Three Valleys press release: