How bad will the California drought have to get before the Cadiz, Inc. plan for shipping water to Orange County from a fragile Mojave Desert aquifer looks good.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) didn’t like it in 2008, when she wrote to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, “California has many better choices for addressing its drought than destroying significant parts of its natural heritage.” The drought she referenced was nothing compared to the last four years.
The senator has attached a rider to budget legislation for each of the last eight years that bars the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from spending money to review plans for transporting water along the railroad right-of-way that Cadiz plans to use.
But Cadiz pressed on and after some success at the local level asked BLM for permission to use the right-of-way without the review because the path had already been approved for the railroad.
The terms of the railroad right-of-way required that any project using it have something to do with the railroad, according to a determination made by the U.S. Department of Interior’s solicitor general in 2011 and relied upon by BLM. Cadiz argued that the water could be used to put out trestle fires and help power a new tourist steam train operation between Cadiz and Parker, Arizona.
The agency said Cadiz would have to apply for its own right-of-way permit, which would be subject to the public scrutiny of a full environmental review.
Critics say the Cadiz plan could not survive that.
The company’s pitch is to divert surplus water from the Colorado River to an aquifer beneath 45,000 acres of land it owns between the Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in eastern San Bernardino County. Cadiz would augment that supply by capturing water otherwise lost to nature, pump 50,000 acre-feet per year of water out of the aquifer for 50 years, and ship it via a 43-mile pipeline that hasn’t been built yet to the Colorado River Aqueduct, and on to 100,000 thirsty domiciles in Southern California.
The fear is that the “surplus” water from the Colorado River won’t be available, so Cadiz will “temporarily” borrow water from the Mojave aquifer and not pay it back when El Niño and monsoons fail to drench the state. In the meantime, the pipeline will cut across sensitive federal property and the ecosystem will take a big hit.
The project got the green light in 2012 from the Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, which conducted its own environmental review of water it would be receiving. Conservationists lost a court battle two years later to have that review tossed.