Santa Ana, California — Conservation groups filed their opening briefs this week challenging the Cadiz Water Project, a private groundwater-mining proposal that would siphon 16 million of gallons of water per year for up to 50 years from the Mojave Desert to feed urban sprawl in Southern California’s Orange County.
Widely opposed by San Bernardino County residents, state and federal public agencies, and local businesses, Cadiz, Inc.’s ill-conceived plan threatens to dry up life-sustaining desert springs in the Mojave National Preserve, hurting vegetation and key habitat for iconic desert wildlife species, including desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, Mojave fringe-toed lizards and kit foxes.
“Let’s call this what it is: a water-privatization scheme that will ship San Bernardino’s water resources, essential to the health of the Mojave Desert ecosystem, off to fuel suburban sprawl in Orange County,” said Adam Keats, head of the Center for BiologicalDiversity’s California Water Law Project. “If we learn anything from this drought it’s that we have to live within our water means, and unsustainable, harebrained projects like this need to stop.”
Cadiz has repeatedly tried and failed to mine this aquifer over the past two decades but was rejected each time by larger waterdistricts in Southern California. Former government hydrologists from the U.S. Geological Survey have disagreed with the Cadizconsultants on the recharge rate of the aquifer and identified the project as unsustainable over the long term. Cadiz also plans to build a 43-mile pipeline that would transport the mined water to buyers, and its applications for right-of-way permits are being carefully scrutinized by the Bureau of Land Management. “Our 145,000 California members feel strongly that the desert and our national parks must be protected from wanton, profit-driven destruction that will very likely result from this proposal,” said Kim Floyd, conservation chair for the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We are hopeful that we will be successful in protecting the public’s water resources at this stage in the case.”
“The so-called Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project is none of those things. It’s just a scheme to destroy the aquifer so a single corporation can make more money, under the guise of securing water supplies for wealthy residents of Orange County. The supposed annual recharge rate has been enormously inflated in order to sell the project,” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.
Although the project’s environmental review should have been conducted by San Bernardino County, it was actually done by a waterdistrict in Orange County about 200 miles away, disregarding San Bernardino County’s groundwater protection laws.
“Santa Margarita Water District is the wrong agency, in the wrong county, serving the wrong interests for reviewing the environmental impacts of a project that will drain the groundwater from the eastern Mojave in San Bernardino County,” said Keats. “Throughout the approval process, there was a disregard for accountability to San Bernardino residents, protection of desert resources and compliance with local laws.”
The groups challenging the Cadiz Water Project on appeal are the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. Separate appeals were filed by the National Parks Conservation Association and a local salt-mining operation that would be threatened by the water-mining scheme.