Thirsty California Needs Cadiz Water

December 20, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

Commentary

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.”

Epoch Times Photo
The Orange County Water District plant in Fountain Valley, Calif., on April 27, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

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.

california drought
Aerial view shows low water levels at Folsom Lake in Granite Bay, Calif., on May 10, 2021. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Minority Communities

A key part of the project is that Cadiz would supply water to minority and disadvantaged communities. That’s why it’s backed by the Rebuild SoCal Partnership, which on Dec. 4 said in a statement, “One day after the California State Water Project announced it would deliver no water to desperate California communities, political appointees in President Biden’s Department of the Interior asked a federal judge to undo existing permits for a retired natural gas pipeline that could be converted to water conveyance and bring much-needed water to drought-stricken California towns. …

“Rebuild and other community groups in California have called, written and emailed the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management multiple times over the last four months seeking an opportunity to discuss the urgent need for quick action on an innovative project being proposed by California natural resources company Cadiz Inc. that would permit a retired fossil fuel pipeline to be converted to carry water supplies to desperate communities in the State. Based on the Court filing, it appears we were ignored.

“This pipeline conversion project began under the Obama administration. For five years through previous administrations, the Department of Interior had an open door. Rebuild strongly supported BLM in approving this innovative project to repurpose fossil fuel infrastructure to transport clean, reliable water.  For the current Administration to now say ‘slow down’—is troubling for the disadvantaged and underserved communities facing severe water shortages, and to the thousands of working men and women who have already waited and stood with the President in his call for urgent action on his infrastructure plan.”

Minorities and the disadvantaged also are hit hardest by inflation, including higher prices for water due to new water sources such as Cadiz not being utilized.

“What has to happen for the federal government to understand how dire the situation is for thousands of people who don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water?” said Jon Switalski, Executive Director of the partnership.  “How many wells have to go dry?  How many towns have to have bottled water trucked in? How many children have to be exposed to toxic chemicals from their faucet before the federal government thinks it’s important enough to take action?”

The partnership quoted MSNBC columnist Ja’han Jones from his Dec. 3 column, where he wrote, “[T]he success of Biden’s infrastructure plans will be judged by their ability to help remedy decades of racist infrastructure inequality.”

And Rebuild quoted Jose Barrera, State Director of League of United Latin American Citizens California, who said, “Saying the Administration wants to remove barriers for disadvantaged communities to access funds for clean water infrastructure, while at the very same time erecting yet another barrier to accessing clean water infrastructure for California’s most vulnerable communities is concerning and inconsistent. It is our hope that this fumble on clean water, climate change and racial inequality is temporary and not cause for great concern.”

Conclusion

Whether you think California’s recent spate of droughts is part of a natural cycle or caused by “climate change,” the fact is the state needs more water. Every source should be tapped, including the new desalination plants in Carlsbad and its similar plant soon to go operational in Huntington Beach.

Cadiz has done everything humanly possible for 20 years to meet environmental and other regulatory requirements. The only reasons to oppose it are political foolishness and extremist environmental obstructionism.

Hiltzik, the L.A. Times, Sen. Feinstein, and others of the Perrier Elite can afford to pay for more expensive water. The rest of us cannot, beginning with the poor and minorities.

For us, Cadiz’s water is needed now. Turn on the tap.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com