By Courtney Degener, Vice President, Communications & Investor Relations
A Part of the Cadiz Team for over 12 years.
Over the last two decades, California has grappled with systemic challenges to its traditional water supplies. Climatic extremes and more regular dry years are the new normal. The availability of reliable water to meet all of the state’s demands is a persistent public policy issue. We need water for our people, our environment and to sustain our way of life. In recognition of this need, in 2009 Cadiz Inc. set the objective of creating, designing, permitting and constructing an environmentally benign water project, and today we are nearing completion of these objectives.
Cadiz Inc. is the largest private landowner in the eastern Mojave Desert, where billions of gallons of water evaporate every year from the highly-saline Bristol and Cadiz dry lakes near the town of Amboy. The playas are the down-gradient end of a massive groundwater basin in a watershed the size of Rhode Island. To stop this loss, we’ve proposed to better manage the basin to provide a reliable supply and new aquifer storage capacity. By capturing and conserving water before it evaporates, we can create a new, sustainable annual supply for nearly 400,000 Californians.
Under our plan, conserved project water would be delivered to the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River Aqueduct for distribution throughout Southern California via a pipeline that would be built in an existing railroad right-of-way. We selected this route, which is longer and costlier than a more direct pipeline route would be, because it will avoid impacts to desert lands. Construction of the pipeline, wellfield and related infrastructure will create thousands of jobs for local residents and veterans, generate nearly $1 billion in economic activity, augment Southern California’s water supply reliability and take pressure off existing imported supplies.
Phase 2 of the project, its storage component, is particularly relevant in this very wet year. It would enable storage of imported excess flows at Cadiz, utilizing the aquifer’s estimated 1 million acre-feet of storage capacity. Southern California water providers could move surplus wet-year water from either the Colorado River Aqueduct or the State Water Project via an abandoned natural gas pipeline from Barstow to Cadiz, which we have purchased, and store it at Cadiz until the inevitable subsequent dry years. A “programmatic” environmental review of Phase 2 was completed in 2012, meaning a preliminary evaluation of the concept, and a “project” level review must still be completed once Phase 1 gets underway.
Although the project’s concept may sound unique, the sustainable use of groundwater in California’s managed basins and the movement of water between basins is not. Californians have a history of not living where the water is, and all seven Southern California counties rely on imports from the State Water Project, the Colorado River and neighboring basins to sustain their populations. Groundwater storage is also a preferred method of capturing excess flows in wet years and is becoming more common in California and the West.
To ensure that the project is a resource that helps meet Southern California’s water management needs, the project incorporates stringent groundwater management principles in its approved Groundwater Management Plan. The County of San Bernardino, which was viewed as the superior protector of desert groundwater resources during the recent controversy over the Soda Mountain solar generating station, will enforce the plan. Data on groundwater levels will be compiled, posted for the public, and reviewed by an independent committee appointed by the county. If water levels fall below a county-designated floor, or if there’s evidence of unanticipated impacts on the desert environment, the county can adjust or even stop operations.
This Groundwater Management Plan grew out of recommendations by some of the nation’s leading hydrologists and scientists as they peer-reviewed the Cadiz EIR’s hydrological study. The study used the US Geological Survey’s newest and best computer model for desert hydrology in the Southwestern U.S., created in 2006, to estimate the aquifer system’s size (over 20 million acre-feet, about the size of Lake Mead) and how much water flows into it annually (its recharge rate, found to be about 32,000 acre-feet a year). To verify the computer model’s calculation of the system’s recharge rate, we asked scientists from the Desert Research Institute to measure evaporation from the Bristol and Cadiz dry lakes, where all the water in the aquifer ends up, completing the water cycle. The amount of water going in should equal the amount of water evaporating out, and that is what the study verified – the volumes are the same.
The project’s EIR and Groundwater Management Plan withstood court challenges over four years and emerged with no changes or additional studies ordered. With these court challenges behind us, we are working to implement the project and initiate Phase II’s water storage component so we can deliver on our promises of sustainable water supply and economic benefits. Developing sustainable projects in California takes time, but when done right they can be useful for all in dry and wet years alike.
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