Carcinogen Complicates Mojave Water Project Already under Fire

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cadiz Inc. has unsuccessfully pushed a plan to ship water from a Mojave aquifer to Southern California cities for more than a decade, running afoul of environmentalists, desert residents, nearby mining interests, political watchdogs and water district officials.

Its quest didn’t get any easier this past week when environmental documents quantified the known presence of toxic hexavalent chromium in amounts far beyond public health goals. There are no state or federal standards for the known carcinogen, and there may not be for a few years, but the chromium levels found in the Cadiz water of 14 to 16 parts per billion dwarfs the goal of .02 parts per billion.

Treatment of the water could significantly raise the cost of shipping it via the Colorado River Aqueduct, operated by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), to Southland suburbs.

In 2002, MWD shot down the Cadiz plan to store “surplus” Colorado River water in its aquifer for shipment to the cities during times of drought. Cadiz sued but dropped the legal effort on the eve of trial. In the ensuing years, Cadiz CEO and Board Chairman Keith Brackpool cultivated political allies for his project, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Brackpool and his associates contributed $43,650 to Los Angeles Mayor (and former Assembly Speaker) Antonio Villaraigosa and paid him a consultant fee while he was in between political assignments. He donated $345,000 to various campaigns by former Governor Gray Davis. San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt picked up $10,000 in campaign contributions in 2007-08 and Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno received $12,000.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, worked for Cadiz for awhile and in 2005 received $120,000 in consulting fees while serving on the state Public Utilities Commission. Schwarzenegger appointed Brackpool to the Horse Racing Commission in 2009, where he was elected chairman in 2010.   

Conservation groups have long opposed the Cadiz project over concerns that pumping water from the aquifer would dry up springs that support bighorn sheep and other wildlife. Air quality and groundwater beneath the Mojave Preserve also could be affected.

Delaware Tetra Technologies, Inc., a mining company, has filed suit against the project, arguing that a drop in the water table would adversely affect the mining of salt in nearby dry lake beds.

–Ken Broder  


To Learn More:

Carcinogen in Mojave Groundwater Could Require Costly Treatment (by Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times)

Cadiz Water Project Progresses (by Janet Zimmerman, Riverside Press-Enterprise)

Cadiz Water Deal Was All Wet the Last Time (by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times)

Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recover and Storage Project Final EIR (Santa Margarita Water District) (pdf)

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