February 27, 2012

Complaint lodged against Cadiz project

Needles Desert Star

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY - Independent environmentalist Ruth Musser-Lopez of Needles recently reported she has lodged a complaint in regards to the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project with San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos' Public Integrity Unit and the California Attorney General.

She alleges the conduct of the Santa Margarita Water District is in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act, better known as the open meeting law. In her complaint, she alleges the water district threatens to violate the Brown Act and the constitutional rights of San Bernardino County citizens by holding a ruse California Environmental Quality Act hearing in Joshua Tree located outside of the district's jurisdiction.

The project would extract 50,000 to 75,000 acre feet of the east Mojave groundwater in San Bernardino County. It would be diverted west to Orange County via the Colorado River aqueduct. A potential customer for the water is the Santa Margarita Water District. Musser-Lopez' complaint alleges the district wrongfully identified itself as the “lead agency” on the CEQA review for the project. Musser-Lopez asserts San Bernardino County citizens didn't elect Santa Margarita Water District officials nor have a say in the formation of the Orange County District. By representing themselves as having authority over CEQA documents pertaining to projects within the jurisdictional limits of San Bernardino County, Orange County water district is engaging in a violation of the Brown Act, according to Musser-Lopez' complaint.

Her complaint also explores how SMWD and its board of directors, along with their attorneys, acted willfully, purporting to be authorized to schedule Draft Environmental Impact Review hearings at locations not easily accessible to the east Mojave communities that will be most affected by the project. By holding the meetings in Joshua Tree, Calif., east Mojave citizens would need to drive 300 miles round trip, creating an undue hardship and an injustice to the disabled and elderly, according to Musser-Lopez.

She claims the meetings are discriminatory and inflict undue hardship, handicaps and discourage the expression of the citizens to participate by oral statements and comments and violate government codes and certain protections and prohibitions contained in section 202 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Musser-Lopez claims all of these allegations have caused irreparable harm to her and San Bernardino County citizens. “We can't control SMWD because we didn't create it and they don't belong here,” she said in a prepared statement.

Jeff Williams, board president for the Needles Chamber of Commerce, said the board opted to formally support the project because of what it could mean economically for Needles. It could translate to several jobs and certainly means Cadiz project workers would come into town for food and lodging - both of which would help generate revenue for the city.

Courtney Degener, of Cadiz Inc., said she hasn't seen the complaint but disagrees with all the allegations being made in a press release about Musser-Lopez' action. She claims Cadiz has gone through the proper processes and has abided by all the California Environmental Quality Act requirements.

She said Cadiz has followed all CEQA laws including selection of the lead agency and not selecting San Bernardino County as that lead agency. Cadiz will also work with San Bernardino County through all the permitting processes and keep them in the loop about the project, Degener said.

Regarding meeting places, Degener said it's difficult to select a meeting location anywhere in these areas because it's a long drive for anyone coming or going. “It's just the vastness of the area,” she said.

While there aren't any meetings or open houses planned for the Needles area, Cadiz is encouraging all residents to submit any comments or concerns, Degener said. The CEQA process ensures all written comments are given as much consideration as comments made at meetings, she continued. The comment portion of the process has been extended to March 14.

Written comments, including a return address and contact name, may be sent: c/o Tom Barnes, ESA, 626 Wilshire Boulevard, Ste. 100, Los Angeles, CA 90017; telephone 213-599-4300, Fax: 213-599-4301, or by email to: cadizproject@esassoc.com

February 26, 2012

Shuttered California state parks may be vulnerable to vandalism

Damage to the visitors center and other structures at Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert has officials working to improve plans to protect as many as 70 other California parks scheduled to close in July because of budget cuts.

Kevin Forrester, a superintendent with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, walks inside Mitchell Caverns at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Since the remote park's closure, intruders have cut fences, kicked doors off of hinges and shattered windows and display cases at the visitors center. Critics say it might be a harbinger of what's to come when 70 more state parks are closed because of budget cuts. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / February 22, 2012)

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, Calif. -- California parks officials closed a gem of the state park system last spring, sadly shuttering Mitchell Caverns, a natural wonder that for eight decades had drawn visitors to this remote spot in the Mojave Desert.

Workers hauled away the precious Native American artifacts and historical documents and locked the gates, assuming the area would sit undisturbed until the state could afford to reopen it.

But several times in the last four months, vandals traveled 16 desolate miles north from Interstate 40 to plunder and damage the park's isolated structures. Their actions left advocates for the caverns angry at the state and have officials working to improve plans to protect as many as 70 other California parks scheduled to close in July because of budget cuts.

The worst damage was to the 78-year-old rock-and-mortar visitors center at Mitchell Caverns, the main attraction of the 5,900-acre Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.

Intruders cut fences, kicked doors off of hinges and shattered windows and display cases. They stole metal signs and survival gear, including hand-held radios, flashlights and binoculars. They also stole diesel-powered generators and ripped out thousands of feet of electrical wire used to illuminate the only natural limestone caverns in the state park system, San Bernardino County sheriff's investigators said.

"What happened at the visitors center is devastating and heartbreaking," said Kathy Weatherman, superintendent of the California Parks and Recreation Department's Tehachapi District. She said the caverns themselves were not damaged. The state is taking steps to try to prevent more destruction, including searching for a full-time caretaker, Weatherman said.

The attacks have heightened concerns about possible vandalism at other state parks scheduled for closure. Those 70 parks are among the least used in the state. They represent one-quarter of the 278 that exist across California but tally just 8% of total visits. Many are in remote areas where they are particularly vulnerable.

Officials are seeking anyone with the clout and funds to keep them from being left unguarded after they are closed. "Now, amid budget constraints, we're looking for ways to get caretakers, guardians, local law enforcement and volunteers to protect these precious places," said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

As with so many cuts in California government spending these days, the hope is that once the budget improves, the state will restore services and amenities that have long made the state a rich place to live. But there are no guarantees, especially because just 13 of the state parks and beaches are financially self-sustaining. Fans of many of the parks scheduled for closure are scrambling to try to find some combination of private funds and volunteerism to keep the gates open, fearing that if they ever close it could be for good.

The Mitchell Caverns visitors center, 220 miles east of Los Angeles, had been the home of the caverns' original owners, Los Angeles businessman Jack Mitchell and his wife, Ida. The couple moved to the desert to open the caverns as a tourist attraction in the 1930s and sold them to the state in 1954. A memorial plaque says the Mitchells wanted the state to preserve the area and the caverns "for future generations to appreciate."

Sue Ellen Patrick, 71, granddaughter of Jack and Ida Mitchell, said of the destruction: "My family feels betrayed because the state didn't do what it promised us, which is protect the caves and the heritage."

State Parks and Recreation Department officials decided to mothball the area last May because of two unrelated events. The park's two rangers retired and the state found serious problems with the water system, said Linda Slater, resource interpreter at the nearby Mojave National Preserve. The state couldn't afford the repairs needed to keep the park open.

After valuables were removed, the property was left unguarded, parks officials said.

"The state locked up the place and then walked away, leaving it wide open to troublemakers," said Dennis Casebier, executive director of the nonprofit Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Assn.

Said cattle rancher Rob Blair, 54, who lives within view of Mitchell Caverns: "It's disgusting what's going on out there. These intruders were pretty bold to cut the locks off a state park gate, then tear everything up and steal big-ticket items."

Park officials estimate the damage at $100,000.

Responding to a trespassing call on Feb. 5, sheriff's deputies arrested Christopher Alvarado, 48, of Azusa and Trisha Sutton, 36, of Covina. Deputies said they found stolen items at the couple's campsite near Mitchell Caverns. Alvarado and Sutton were booked on suspicion of burglary, receiving stolen property, possession of a controlled substance and possession of burglary tools, Sheriff's Lt. Ross Tarangle said.

The investigation continues, with police trying to determine whether other people were involved.

Although police reports indicate that a person interviewed at the site said vandals found a key to the cavern gates and destroyed natural features inside, Tarangle said those reports have yet to be confirmed, and parks officials insist they have no evidence the caverns were damaged.

From a distance, the entrance to the caverns resembles two large eyes on a massive rock. Their earliest inhabitants included a Pleistocene ground sloth that stumbled into the darkness 15,000 years ago and left claw marks on a wall. Later, the caverns were blackened with smoke from the fires of Chemehuevi Indians who used them for shelter, storage and ceremonial purposes for at least 500 years.

This week, Kevin Forrester, sector superintendent for the parks department, recalled memories of better times as he walked along a path to the visitors center.

"Look at it now," Forrester said with a sigh. "We've had to board up the windows and weld the doors shut.

"It's going to take a lot of money to bring this place back to life."

February 25, 2012

Mojave solar-power project sacrifices the desert for the Earth

Industrial-scale solar development is well under way in California's Mojave Desert, where more than 3,500 acres of public land are being covered with BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar-power project. In the fight against climate change, the Mojave is about to take one for the team.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar-power-plant construction site is bathed with the light from sunrise as cranes loom over the Mojave Desert and crews work to build one of facility's giant "power towers." (MARK BOSTER / MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS)

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times

IVANPAH VALLEY, Calif. — Construction cranes rise like storks 40 stories above the Mojave Desert. In their midst, the "power tower" emerges, wrapped in scaffolding and looking like a multistage rocket.

Clustered nearby are hangar-size assembly buildings, looming berms of sand and a chain mail of fencing that will enclose more than 3,500 public acres. Moorings for 173,500 mirrors — each the size of a garage door — are spiked into the desert floor. Before the end of the year, they will become six square miles of gleaming reflectors, sweeping from Interstate 15 to the Clark Mountains along California's eastern border.

BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah solar-power project will soon be a humming city with 24-hour lighting, a wastewater-processing facility and a gas-fired power plant. To make room, BrightSource has mowed down a swath of desert plants, displaced dozens of animal species and relocated scores of imperiled desert tortoises, a move some experts say could kill up to one-third of the reptiles.

Despite its behemoth footprint, the Ivanpah project has slipped easily into place, unencumbered by lasting legal opposition or public outcry from California's environmental community.

The public got its chance to comment at scores of open houses, but the real political horse trading took place in meetings involving solar developers, federal regulators and leaders of some of the nation's top environmental organizations.

Away from public scrutiny, they crafted a united front in favor of utility-scale solar development, often making difficult compromises.

"I have spent my entire career thinking of myself as an advocate on behalf of public lands and acting for their protection," said Johanna Wald, a veteran environmental attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I am now helping facilitate an activity on public lands that will have very significant environmental impacts. We are doing it because of the threat of climate change. It's not an accommodation; it's a change I had to make to respond to climate."

That unusual collaboration — along with generous federal subsidies and allotments of public land — has sparked a wholesale remodeling of the American desert.

Industrial-scale solar development is well under way in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The federal government has furnished more public property to this cause than it has for oil and gas exploration in the past decade: 21 million acres, more than the area of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties put together.

If only a few of the proposed projects are built, hundreds of square miles of wild land will be scraped clear. Several thousand miles of power-transmission corridors will be created.

The desert will be scarred, and no amount of mitigation will repair it, according to scores of federal and state environmental reviews.

"The scale of impacts that we are facing, collectively across the desert, is phenomenal," said Dennis Schramm, former superintendent at neighboring Mojave National Preserve. "The reality of the Ivanpah project is that what it will look like on the ground is worse than any of the analyses predicted."

In the fight against climate change, the Mojave Desert is about to take one for the team.

Not cheap energy

For decades, America's Western deserts have been dusty storehouses for government scrap, a lode for minerals, a staging ground for tanks and military maneuvers.

But the thrum of industry is afoot, bringing Space Age technology and a sense of urgency.

The BrightSource solar plant stands as an exclamation point in the desert.

The $2 billion plant is an amalgam of gadgetry designed to wring the maximum energy from the sun. Computers continually focus the field of mirrors to a center tower filled with water, which will heat to more than 1,000 degrees. The resulting steam drives an array of turbines capable of generating 370 megawatts, enough to power roughly 140,000 homes during peak hours.

Capturing a free and clean source of energy is not cheap. Solar is the Cadillac of energy, with capital costs and other market factors making it three times more expensive than natural gas or coal.

Ratepayers' bills will be up to 50 percent higher for renewable energy, according to an analysis from the consumer advocate branch of the state Public Utilities Commission.

What has opened the way for such a costly source of energy is the dramatic turn in federal policy. As early as 2005, the Bush administration established generous programs to reward renewable-energy developers. The Obama administration sweetened the pot, offering $45 billion in federal tax credits, guaranteed loans and grants.

On the state level, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger freed large solar plants from property taxes and handed out $90 million in exemptions from sales and use taxes. Under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state invested more than $70 million in clean-energy research last year, paid for by a ratepayer surcharge.

The money has sparked a land rush echoing the speculative booms in mining, railroad construction and oil and gas on Western federal land.

One of the first firms out of the gate was Oakland-based BrightSource Energy, which received $1.6 billion in federally guaranteed loans in addition to hundreds of millions in private investment.

By taking advantage of the available government subsidies, shrewd solar developers can get taxpayers to cover close to 80 percent of a multibillion-dollar project. The rest comes from investors, attracted by what amounts to a tax shelter.

Federal and state officials have used job creation to partly justify their subsidy of solar companies. During the two to three years of a solar plant's construction, most new jobs will go to union tradesmen. But after a plant is built, employment opportunities are limited.

BrightSource's Ivanpah facility is expected to employ 1,000 workers at the height of construction, but that will shrink to 86 full-time maintenance and facility workers once it is up and running.

"What troubles me is that the public has bought the whole solar expansion hook, line and sinker because it's 'renewable,' " Schramm said. "The public would be up in arms if someone was building Disneyland next to a national park."

The environmental cost

Larry LaPre, the Bureau of Land Management's wildlife biologist for much of the Mojave, said some aspects of the project have been carefully considered and painstakingly done. Other approaches, however, are "complete nonsense," among them BrightSource's experimental approach of shearing the tops of desert plants so they fit under elevated solar mirrors. The company calls it "gentle mowing."

"To get another barrel cactus, even a small one, takes 100 years," he said, driving around the Ivanpah construction site. LaPre peered through the windshield and ticked off what living things might be left after the developers finish.

"The birds are already gone. They're outta there," he said. The site "will have plants, short plants, and it will have mice and kangaroo rats and some lizards. That's it. Maybe some more common birds. The insects are an unknown, because you could have massive losses of pollinators because you have all these insects getting burned in the mirrors."

Mainstream environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been largely mute, having traded the picket line for a seat at the table when development plans were drawn.

The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the nation's most aggressively litigious environmental groups, has not challenged the Ivanpah project. It signed a confidential agreement not to oppose the project in exchange for concessions for the desert tortoise, mandating that BrightSource buy land elsewhere for conservation.

Some 24 environmental groups signed statements largely supporting the aims of solar developers.

Federal officials, solar companies and environmental groups argue that the urgency brought on by climate change has forced difficult trade-offs.

"We did the best we could," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

February 18, 2012

Land speculators see silver lining in solar projects

Remote, inhospitable desert land gains new value as developers seek sites for renewable energy. Industry observers caution that not every owner is going to make a fortune.
Land Ownership in the Mojave Desert Region

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Ripley, Calif.— For Sale: 3,400 acres in the desert.

  • No paved roads. Check.
  • Isolated. Ideal.
  • Land not suitable for farming. Perfect.
  • Blistering sunshine. Jackpot.
  • Asking price: $34 million. Deal.

As large-scale solar development has spooled out into Southwestern deserts, the modern-day gold rush is about more than renewable energy. Solar companies and land speculators are gobbling up scarce private land in the California deserts, driving prices up 10- to 20-fold, or even higher.

Desolate acreage that a few years ago might have sold for less than $500 an acre can now fetch as much as $20,000 an acre, according to land brokers in the region. Farmers are also getting in on the action. Alfalfa and cotton fields are being converted to solar and wind farms as the industry's big players put together mega-deals.

"It's mind-boggling what's happening," said Jean Laborde of Bakersfield, a former farmer who has been selling agricultural land in the Mojave and adjacent Colorado deserts for 45 years.

Laborde has made a killing lately. About 10 years ago, one of his clients listed 750 barren acres near the town of Mojave, but Laborde couldn't sell it. He finally bought the land himself for $350 an acre. "There's no water, the wind blows all the time," he said. "Everyone said this was a Godforsaken place."

Laborde held on to the property, then sold it a few years ago to someone who intended to build a solar power plant. Laborde won't disclose what the developer paid, but the price today would be $10,000 an acre, he said. "Turned out to be the best deal I ever made."

Real estate specialists warn that not all desert landowners will enjoy a similar payday, but try telling that to old-timers who hear about deals that have turned farmers into millionaires. A recent example is the family of alfalfa growers in Gila Bend, Ariz., who sold 3,000 acres of cropland to a consortium of investors, who then sold the land to Spanish solar giant Abengoa for $45 million.

Earlier this year Ari Swiller, who heads a Los Angeles-based renewable energy company, quietly gathered up 11,000 acres near Blythe — the largest aggregation of separate parcels the Riverside County assessor's office has seen in 15 years. Although the property hasn't been resold, Riverside County Assessor Larry W. Ward said land in the area that typically sells in "the low hundreds" per acre is now going for $2,000 to $3,000 an acre.

That part of the state offers what solar developers require: mostly flat land near transmission lines, and reliable sunshine. Depending on the size of the plant, companies may need a few hundred or a few thousand acres.

Most of the utility-scale solar farms sprouting in the desert are on federal land, which companies lease for a nominal yearly rate. But some developers prefer private property, even at high prices, because public land carries a thick sediment of bureaucracy: a snarl of federal and state environmental laws that requires time-consuming and expensive analysis before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

Private land carries few similar impediments. As long as the parcel holds no cultural resources or protected species, a solar developer can move quickly and avoid costly construction delays.

Solar companies covet private land for another reason. If a renewable energy project on public or private property compromises habitat for endangered species, the developer must buy biologically suitable private land to account for that loss. The Ivanpah Solar Project, for example, requires that Oakland-based developer BrightSource buy 7,000 acres to replace habitat for the threatened desert tortoise.

Solar companies are reluctant to speak publicly about land prices, partly out of fear that they will inflame an already overheated market. Developers try to fly beneath the real estate radar, often buying contiguous parcels under different names or through third parties to avoid igniting a land rush.

Most hire brokers or land scouts who bump along dirt roads trolling for cheap land. They, too, operate quietly and seldom disclose whom they represent.

John Reeder, a land broker with Sperry Van Ness in Ontario, said the market has spawned speculators, "investors who have purchased or control options on land, whose only plan was to sell to a solar company."

The high-priced sales have longtime landowners salivating. But despite the talk of a land rush, most are still waiting to score.

In 1948, Russ Roberts' great-grandfather bought 565 acres of desert scrub near Baker. Roberts said his ancestor was convinced that with the growth of Las Vegas, land along the highway from Los Angeles would become prized.

The gamble hasn't really paid off for Roberts' family, although now, with renewable energy developers calling, they have hope. The family is asking $7,000 an acre.

"We get a lot of tire-kickers," Roberts said. "Calls from big companies in Germany. Nothing solid yet, though."

Bobby Miller handled the $45-million transaction in Gila Bend, a farming outpost in the Sonoran Desert southwest of Phoenix. But he is dismissive of the idea that everyone with a few acres of dusty ground is going to get rich selling to big solar.

"The sale gave everyone the hope that their parcels would be like this," said Miller, who has trademarked the nickname "Dr. Dirt" and has the seen-it-all weariness of someone who has surfed dozens of boom and bust cycles. "I think they are dreaming. I can sell you lots of bulk acreage at $800 an acre."

Other real estate specialists warn that many sales collapse at the last minute as solar developers find that their projects don't pencil out, often because government incentives or power purchase agreements don't come through.

To meet the exceptionally high front-end costs, solar developers are dependent on federal loan guarantees, tax rebates and other subsidies to finance construction of multibillion-dollar solar plants. Renewable energy subsidies have been accelerated by the Obama administration, and the land-buying frenzy is in part caused by the approaching end of some federal incentives.

The complexities involved in solar projects have made for an uncertain market. Larry Cullinane, who has been selling land near Hesperia since 1975, estimated that 90% of all solar land deals fall apart in the first year, leaving the seller to start over with little more than a deposit.

"One of my clients has had close to $200 million fall out of solar contracts for various reasons," he said. "In most cases it's a financial scenario. Some of the owners get fed up with dealing with the solar developers."

Buyers, too, have reason for skepticism. As California homeowners know from painful experience, runaway real estate prices carry a risk. Prices have risen so sharply and sales have been so spotty that establishing the true value of raw desert land is difficult.

Cullinane said two of his clients, brothers in their 80s, own 640 acres they have farmed and grazed since 1940. The men bought the property for $10,000, and are today asking $3.5 million.

The plot is good for solar, but it is 21/2 miles from the nearest transmission line. Cullinane thinks the price is about double its true value — although a naive buyer or a speculator might think otherwise.

Cullinane and some of his peers in the Mojave have also spotted a niche in the solar market: desert tortoise mitigation land. Cullinane now judges land according to how suitable it would be to relocate the tortoise. Class 1 mitigation land goes for $1,200 an acre, he said, while the best-quality habitat might bring $3,000 to $5,000 an acre.

"Just in the Mojave, I've got 20,000 acres, and in Kern County I've got about 15,000 acres for potential mitigation property," Cullinane said.

If large-scale solar projects continue to proliferate in the heart of the tortoise habitat, and with companies required to find two to three acres of habitat for each acre they displace, a reasonable question becomes whether enough private land exists in the Southern California desert to cover the loss.

Less than 17% of the Mojave's 20 million acres is private property.

Janine Blaeloch, director of the Western Lands Project, calls this the elephant in the room of the tortoise mitigation program.

"Just take a look — there just isn't enough land for them to find and buy," she said. "It's the fatal flaw."

February 10, 2012

O.C. agency revives failed desert water plan


A plan to boost water supplies using a Mojave desert aquifer is being floated by an Orange County water agency -- nearly 10 years after a similar plan for the same aquifer failed to gain approval, in part because of stiff opposition from a U.S. senator and environmental activists.

The Santa Margarita Water District says its $225 million plan for the Cadiz Valley aquifer is different from a Metropolitan Water District plan scuttled in 2002, and is designed to reduce potential environmental concerns.

The Santa Margarita Water District says its $225 million plan for the Cadiz Valley aquifer is different from a Metropolitan Water District plan scuttled in 2002, and is designed to reduce potential environmental concerns.

But already, opposition to the new project is stirring. And U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, who strongly opposed the previous effort, says the new plan might pose "similar risks."

The new Cadiz project would not begin with injection of water into the aquifer for storage, as proposed in the old plan.

Instead, it would use wells to harvest water flowing beneath dry lake beds that would otherwise evaporate into the atmosphere.

A later phase of the project could involve storing water as well, but that is not part of the initial plan, said Dan Ferons, chief engineer and director of operations at the Santa Margarita Water District.

"This project steps back away from that, and puts that as a second phase," Ferons said. "The first phase of this project really looks at the concept of conserving water that would otherwise evaporate through the dry lakes -- and how much water can you pump to balance that, and not affect the environment out there."

The agency's environmental analysis, opened to public comment for an additional 30 days Friday, shows that collection wells for the groundwater could be dug deep enough to avoid disturbing natural springs fed by surface water, and to avoid the root zones of plants.

The idea is to increase water supply options for the district, which, unlike water agencies in northern and central Orange County, has no deep-water aquifer to draw from.

"We propose it to be a 50-year project, so we have the ability to increase the reliability of the water supply without causing environmental impacts," Ferons said. "For us it means we can reduce dependence on the Bay Delta and the Colorado. This basin is independent of the Colorado River."

Another worry for environmental activists in the earlier Cadiz project was the digging of a pipeline across undisturbed federal desert lands.

The new project's pipeline would be built along an existing railroad right-of-way to avoid that concern as well.

But even with the environmental concessions and the emphasis on capturing water, not storing it, the proposal is provoking new environmental concerns.

Former Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook, who has taken a strong stand on many environmental issues, says the new project is "worse" than the old, which would have diverted water from the Colorado River for storage in the Cadiz aquifer.

The Metropolitan Water District board voted down the project in 2002, citing likely reductions in supply from the Colorado that could make the storage plan untenable.

Some board members also expressed concern about the financial condition of the aquifer's owner, Cadiz Inc.

"This one is only about removing water," Cook said. "To me it's just mind-boggling anyone would propose something like this. It's like pulling money out of the bank and never putting any money in. It's like eating your seed corn."

She is also concerned that, though the water evaporating off the dry lakes does not pool at the surface, the moisture itself could have an ecological role that would be disrupted by drawing the groundwater away.

Similar concerns were expressed by Seth Shteir of the National Parks Conservation Association, who also opposes the project, known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.

"It's a bit ironic that the word 'conservation' is in the title of the project, because conservation implies saving something for future generations," Shteir said. "But what this project really is, is an aggressive groundwater mining scheme."

Shteir said he hired an independent hydrologist, who is concerned that both the water district's estimate of groundwater flowing into the aquifer from nearby mountains and its estimate of how much the basin will discharge above the dry lakes could be exaggerated.

And he says he is concerned about potential effects on the nearby Mojave National Preserve.

Scott Slater, president of Cadiz Inc., the owner of the aquifer, said the estimates of water flow into the aquifer, known as recharge, were performed by top firms, and were modeled for far lower amounts than expected so potential environmental effects could be gauged.

"The draft environmental impact report concludes that even if the recharge is only 5,000 acre feet, off by 85 percent, there is still not a single, not one, significant impact associated with the project," Slater said.

A statement from Feinstein, D-Calif., in response to questions about the project did not say she was opposed, but it did strike a note uncertainty.

"When the Cadiz project was first considered in 2001, I felt the groundwater extraction plan threatened the Mojave National Preserve and the surrounding desert," the statement said. "I remain concerned about this newest proposal and that it poses similar risks. I will reserve judgment until I have the chance to fully review the proposal, but I remain skeptical.”

Santa Margarita spokeswoman Michele Miller said the state's environmental review process will further assess potential environmental effects, and could bring further modifications if needed.

"We're doing this to see if it's a viable project," she said.

Opposition Forms Against Sending Desert Water To The OC

Cadiz Valley water project geographic footprint. (ESA)
Mark Gutglueck
San Bernardino County Sentinel

Belated opposition is hurriedly forming to a plan that would pump an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the aquifer in San Bernardino County’s eastern Mojave Desert and convey it in a pipeline to Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties to replenish the water supply there.

The Santa Margarita Water District, which services an area that is more than 200 miles from the Cadiz Valley, is the lead agency for what is called The Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. As the lead agency, the Santa Margarita Water District, the second largest water district in Orange County, will oversee the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process for the project.

Santa Margarita will work with the Cadiz Land Company in the proposed undertaking, which is a modified version of the Cadiz Water Project floated by Cadiz Land and the Metropolitan Water District more than a decade ago. The original project called for the Cadiz Land Company pumping water from the Colorado River during wet years, storing it in an underground aquifer beneath the Cadiz Valley, and selling as much as 60,000 acre-feet of the native groundwater and Colorado River water mix to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in Los Angeles during dry years. That proposal was ultimately rejected by the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors after conservationists raised concerns over possible environmental damage. The MWD’s rejection of the project led to expensive litigation between the Cadiz Land Company and the MWD.

The concept lay dormant for six years but in 2008, the Cadiz Land Company, also known as Cadiz, Inc., revived the plan in modified form, emphasizing less the drawing of water from the Colorado River and instead proposing to obtain much of the water from sources feeding the area’s dry lakes that are subject to evaporation. The revived project was given a tentative budget of $536.25 million and is to entail the sinking of 34 wells into the desert and construction of a 44-mile pipeline along a railroad right-of-way until it meets up with the aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas.

Through the arrangement with the Cadiz Land Company, the Santa Margarita Water District will receive the lion’s share of the water. In addition, Cadiz, Inc. has entered into agreements with Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont; Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County.

The Cadiz Valley is located just south of the Marble Mountains and northeast of the Sheep Hole Mountains near the National Trails Highway. Cadiz is home to a former railroad stop along the Santa Fe line, 17 miles east of Amboy and 70 miles from Needles.

The public hearings related to the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project were held in Yucca Valley, which is 85 miles from Cadiz, and in Rancho Santa Margarita, which is 217 miles from Cadiz. Many of those directly impacted by the project, including the Bolo Station Water Company, which serves the Cadiz Valley and the property immediately adjoining that of the Cadiz Land Company, was not provided notice of the hearings.

Among those at the forefront of the movement to oppose the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is former Needles city councilwoman Ruth Musser-Lopez, who was previously employed as a Bureau of Land Management Archaeologist assigned to the California Desert District and was active in opposing the Cadiz Water Project in its first incarnation.

Musser-Lopez decried the project as one that would confiscate a vital and rare resource from the desert region. She said the Cadiz Land Company and the Santa Margarita Water District had formed an unholy alliance of a rapacious corporation and a quasi-governmental agency that was abusing the approval and environmental certification processes to violate the rights of the region’s residents, and depriving future generations of desert dwellers of access to water.

Both the Santa Margarita Water District and the Cadiz Land Company have represented the project as one that is aimed at “conservation” of water otherwise lost to evaporation. A major selling point is that the project will represent a $138 million boon to the East Mojave’s economy that will directly or indirectly create 2,090 jobs for four years, involving $53 million in wages or salaries to workers or proprietorships involved in building the pipeline and other elements of the project.

Musser-Lopez, however, charged that “the Cadiz Land Company and the Santa Margarita Water District are promising the residents of the desert a short term gain in the form of temporary construction jobs in exchange for this huge long term detriment. What this project is about is having water taken from San Bernardino County’s desert to be used in Orange County. Why should we allow a small company to utilize that water resource elsewhere?”

Musser-Lopez found particular fault with the manner in which the public hearing process for the project was conducted. She said those with the greatest stake in the region’s water supply were practically excluded from participation in the approval process when the hearings were conducted in Joshua Tree and in Santa Margarita at locations far removed from the Cadiz Valley and its residents and land owners.

She further suggested that utilizing the Santa Margarita Water District as the lead agency on the project was a violation of both the California Constitution, the California Code of Regulations and the California Environmental Equality Act. In particular, she cited 14 CCR § 15051 (b) of the California Administrative Code which states, “If the project is to be carried out by a nongovernmental person or entity, the lead agency shall be the public agency with the greatest responsibility for supervising or approving the project as a whole. The lead agency will normally be the agency with general governmental powers, such as a city or county, rather than an agency with a single or limited purpose such as an air pollution control district or a district which will provide a public service or public utility to the project.”

Musser-Lopez told the Sentinel, “This law is binding. I believe this is grounds for an injunction.”

Accordingly, Musser-Lopez lodged a complaint with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit as well as with the San Bernardino County grand jury, alleging “the public was misled to believe that they would get a real hearing with regard to the content of the environmental impact report as the California Environmental Quality Act provides for,”according to a draft of the grand jury complaint acquired by the Sentinel. In that complaint, Musser-Lopez makes much of the consideration that the logical and legal lead agency on the project, San Bernardino County, had been bypassed.

At a hearing for the project held in Joshua Tree on February 1, 2012, Lopez-Musser notes in the draft grand jury complaint, the Santa Margarita Water District’s “chief engineer who was running the meeting made a statement on the record that San Bernardino County authorized the Santa Margarita Water District to be the lead on the California Environmental Quality Act document. If this is true, I did not see this stated in the environmental impact report. There are many people who would like to know when the supervisors made this decision and in what forum.”

Musser-Lopez cited “the unreasonable burden of travel expense to attend meetings 200 and 85 miles from the project site” in her complaint to the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit.

Moreover, Musser-Lopez alleged, allowing the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD), the jurisdiction of which does not include the Cadiz Valley nor any portion of San Bernardino County, to serve as the lead agency and oversee the compliance of the project with the California Environmental Quality Act, including processing and accepting the environmental impact statements and reports with regard to the project, is improper and a conflict of interest that was an outright corruption of the process.

“Since its jurisdiction is in Orange County, the SMWD inappropriately misidentified itself as the ‘lead agency’ on the project when the lead agency is obviously San Bernardino County, since our own elected county supervisors have the most authority to approve or disapprove a project which is totally encompassed within the county of San Bernardino,” Lopez-Musser said. “How does being a potential customer of Cadiz Water make SMWD a ‘participant’ in the Cadiz Corporation Project which would justify an Orange County water district being in a position to certify an EIR [environmental impact report] in San Bernardino County? There are lots of potential customers, including San Bernardino County water districts. Interestingly, the Metropolitan Water District, which was originally involved in the project, is not identified as a participant in the project and their Colorado River canal absolutely is a necessary component of the project, making the MWD a key agency on this project. Citizens of San Bernardino did not elect the SMWD board or vote on the formation of their district. SMWD has no right to come up here and try to shove this project down our throats after we already defeated it once.”

Furthermore, Musser-Lopez charged, “They are withholding evidence from the EIR. They are saying the desert’s aquifers are not a complex hydrological system and that the water table is not connected to the springs up above and that the water tables are not connected. There is no evidence to back that. The water tables are connected and there are fissures in the bedrock and granite separating them. What is done to one aquifer impacts the adjacent water tables. It is rightfully San Bernardino County who should be the lead agency and the county planning department should be the lead in the preparation of the environmental impact report.”

Musser-Lopez was highly critical of supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose First District the Cadiz Valley is located.

“He completely abrogated his responsibility as our county’s representative,” she said. “It was absolutely shameful. At those hearings there was no one from San Bernardino County representing us. They left it entirely up to water district officials from Orange County to run the show and dictate how our water is going to be used and where.”

Mitzelfelt has not dwelled on the environmental aspect of the project. His only public pronouncement with regard to the plan was to hail it as one that would provide “an immediate infusion of economic stimulus" to the Eastern Mojave.

Since Mitzelfelt was appointed to the board of supervisors in 2007, the Cadiz Land Company has been one of his major political backers, having contributed a total of $48,100 to his campaign fund.

  • On March 13, 2007, the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $10,000.
  • On June 30, 2007 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $12,500.
  • On November 20, 2007 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.
  • On June 18, 2008 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.
  • On October 30, 2008, Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.
  • On May 14, 2009 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $4,000.
  • On July 30, 2009 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,000.
  • On April 12, 2010, the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,600.
  • On October 6, 2010 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,500.
  • On December 10, 2010 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $2,500.

The Cadiz Land Company’s heavy political activity appears aimed at propounding its water resource and water rights accumulation agenda. Ostensibly, the company has represented itself as an agricultural concern, for which the accumulation of water rights was an ancillary aspect. But the company has not been able to sustain itself as an agricultural operation for well over a decade. Beginning in 1986, the company established vineyards, growing organic table grapes exclusively. In 1989, the vineyards were augmented with an organic citrus grove. Seasonal crops, including melons, peppers, squash, asparagus and beans are grown on the Cadiz ranch. The Cadiz Land Company owns, or has options on, 45,000 acres, which, according to the company’s website, are “underlain by high quality groundwater resources.” Roughly 9,600 acres of that property is zoned for agricultural use. In the environmental impact report for the the water plan, reference is made to “approximately 1,600 acres of active agricultural lands” serviced by “seven groundwater production wells located in the central portion of the Cadiz Property that supply irrigation water for the existing agricultural operation.” According to the company’s website, however, the farming concern has yet to grow beyond the 500-acre footprint that was established more than two decades ago.

Despite the fact that since 1993 the company has been celebrating the Cadiz Ranch as “the largest agricultural operation in San Bernardino County,” it has not had a profitable year at least since 1999, and sustained losses exceeding $50 million since 2007. The company’s lenders have propped it up through regular periodic infusions of cash.

In 2008, when the company publicly announced that it was looking to revive the water conservation project, it lost $16 million. At that point, the company’s operating capital had dwindled to $4.3 million. The following year, the company again turned to its longtime lender, L.C. Capital Master Fund, Ltd., for an additional $10 million in operating capital. L.C. Capital agreed to provide that money, and another $5 million the following year.

In 2010, the company continued to operate at a considerable loss, although the company continued to issue stock, and stockholders recouped an annual 4 percent return. Nevertheless, the company courted controversy when its board of directors voted to increase chief executive officer Keith Brackpool’s compensation by 210 percent for fiscal year 2010 and chief financial officer Timothy Shaheen’s compensation by 149 percent.

On June 2, 2011, a majority of the company’s shareholders expressed their disapproval, voting against the company’s 2010 CEO and top executive compensation increases.

In July 2011, San Diego-based Robbins Umeda LLP, a shareholder rights litigation firm, commenced an investigation into possible breaches of fiduciary duty and other violations of the law by certain officers and directors at Cadiz, Inc.

The outcome of that investigation has not been publicly revealed, though it appears that L.C. Capital Master Fund, Ltd. may have lost faith in the company. More recently, Altima Partners, a privately held hedge fund company in England, has emerged as a major investor, having zoomed to being the third largest shareholder in Cadiz, just behind Water Asset Management, which lists as the second largest stockholder in Cadiz. Two months ago, Cadiz saw yet another $11 million infusion of funds, as Water Asset Management provided Cadiz with $5 million and Altima Partners put up another $6 million.

These investors have been brought in, and have so far stayed the course, not because of a belief in the company’s potential as an agricultural concern, but because of representations that the company is on the cusp of transforming itself into a major producer and purveyor of water. Company officials and Santa Margarita Water District officials have openly maintained that they will have unfettered access to the Cadiz Valley’s groundwater and have hinted that they will eventually obtain access to Colorado River Water at Lake Mead.

Questions exist, however, as to whether the company has the right to draft the water it is looking to market to the Santa Margarita Water District, Three Valleys Water District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, and the Jurupa Community Services District as participants in the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, let alone draft water in the quantities some of the company’s investors have been led to believe the company will secure in the future.

Under the auspices of the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, Cadiz Land is projecting pumping 50,000 acre-feet of water from the aquifer in wet years.

An acre-foot is equal to the amount of water that would cover an acre to the depth of one foot, i.e., 43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851.43 gallons, approximately the amount of water used by a typical household comprised of four people in a metropolitan area over the course of a year.

While water rights have yet to be adjudicated in that portion of the East Mojave, the Cadiz Land Company under the law pertaining to water use in the state of California would not be able to assert a right to pump any more water than it has established a pattern of using over a several year period in all of its operations. Information on the amount of water being used at the Cadiz Ranch is not publicly available. Agricultural experts, however, have told the Sentinel that under the climactic conditions prevailing in the Cadiz Valley for the type of farming operation there, a 500-acre ranch is not likely to use more than 2,000 acre-feet of water per year on average.

According to charts, formulas and calculation provided to the Sentinel by Dr. Charles Burt of the Irrigation Training and Research Center with the Agricultural Department at California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obisbo, a 500-acre farming operation in the East Mojave combining equal parts of grapes, melons, tomatoes squash and peppers would consume 1,965.2 acre-feet of water per year if sprinkler irrigation were used.

“It depends on the crops you grow, but for what you are talking about that would be a ballpark figure,” Burt said.

Cadiz Land Company officials have privately said they are utilizing closer to 5,000 acre-feet of water per year.

According to the company, the project will proceed.

“The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is designed to capture and conserve billions of gallons of renewable native groundwater flowing beneath our property in California’s Mojave Desert that is currently being lost to evaporation and salt contamination at nearby dry lakes. Through the active management of the aquifer system and a state-of-the-art groundwater protection program, the project will reduce the loss of groundwater to evaporation from the dry lakes, put this water to beneficial use and create a reliable water supply without adversely impacting the aquifer system or the desert environment,” according to a company statement. “The total quantity of groundwater to be recovered and conveyed to project participants will not exceed a long-term annual average of 50,000 acre-feet per year.”

According to Cadiz, Inc., the project is an environmentally responsible one that should not alarm environmentalists or local land owners.

“The water project will be implemented in two phases,” the company stated. “As part of the first phase of the project, wells would be constructed on our Cadiz Valley property to actively manage the aquifer system and minimize loss of groundwater. The project wellfield will capture and conserve water that is naturally flowing into the system every year and recover water that is moving toward the dry lakes and would otherwise be lost to salt contamination and eventual evaporation. The wellfield will change the hydraulic gradient by pulling water back from its natural downward flow. Safe, established groundwater management techniques will be employed by the project operators to ensure the project is operated without causing harm to the local environment.

“The recovered groundwater would be conveyed to participating water providers from the water project area via a 43-mile pipeline to the Colorado River Aqueduct for delivery throughout the region,” the company statement continues. “The pipeline will be buried underground within an active railroad right-of-way that crosses the project area and the aqueduct. Participating water providers will also have the option to decrease or forego their water delivery in certain years, such as wet years, and carry it over to future years when it may be needed. This carry-over water would be stored in the aquifer system at the project area.”

The company statement hinted at Cadiz, Inc.’s future intention of securing drafting rights from the Colorado River.

“A second phase of the water project would make available up to one million acre-feet of groundwater storage space in the aquifer system for water imported to the project area,” according to the corporate statement. “Under the imported water storage component, water from the Colorado River or potentially the State Water Project could be conveyed to recharge basins on our property in wet years to percolate into the aquifer system, where it would be held in storage. In dry years, previously stored water would be returned to the Colorado River Aqueduct via the conveyance pipeline.”

The corporate statement makes no mention of the possibility of directing Colorado River Water stored in the Cadiz aquifer to the Los Angeles County and Orange County metropolitan area.

In its references to the water project, the Santa Margarita Water District referred to it as one that will draw upon “a potential new water source from a large, renewable aquifer located in the eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. If implemented, the Cadiz Project would diversify SMWD’s water portfolio and help drought-proof the district to ensure its water demands are met regardless of the state’s supply.”

Both Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District have succeeded in having the public input period relating to the project closed down as of February 13. As more of those to be impacted by the project have become aware of it, they are seeking, like Musser-Lopez, to revamp the terms of the approval and CEQA processes, and removing Santa Margarita Water District as the lead agency on the project.

“I'm one of over 1,100 property owners in the Fenner watershed that has never been directly informed that the Cadiz project could impact my groundwater,” said Chris Ervin. “I have a well on my Round Valley property, as do many of my neighbors. The purpose of Cadiz's pumping is to induce water from the high country--where our properties are located--to flow downhill to refill the Cadiz Dry Lake aquifer. We are therefore concerned the Cadiz water project may affect the quantity and/or quality of our groundwater upon which we depend in the desert.”

Leigh Adams, who maintains a residence in the Los Angeles County community of Altadena but is also a desert landowner with property in Rimrock above Pioneertown, considers herself a desert stakeholder. She harvests storm water on both her desert property and her Altadena area property.

“I am vehemently opposed to the Cadiz project,” she told the Sentinel. “It is water piracy, a vile theft from desert wildlife and human beings. The concept of water evaporating being “wasted water” is simply ludicrous! This is a lousy idea. Orange County has lush lawns and swimming pools that are thirsty for water. Let Santa Margarita use the money they propose for this project for education of home and business owners around the topic of conservation. Fifty percent of the water in our communities is used for watering lawns. We buy water from other areas to replace the water we’ve allowed to run off into storm drains and gutters. When those areas, the Sacramento Delta, the Colorado River, Owens Valley, run out of water, we propose to steal it from somewhere else. Reprehensible!”

David Fick, of Joshua Tree, said that he was highly skeptical of the project in its present form. “Going back ten to 12 years ago, it was a water banking scheme to put water in and out of the aquifer and this time they are just going to be taking water out. The proponents of the project say there is 32,000 acre-feet of natural recharge into the basin, but they have not proven that and I do not think that is the case.”

Fick said removing that much water from an already parched environment was not a good idea.
“The desert flora depend on the humidity in the air,” Fick said. “The vast majority of moisture in the desert comes from the dew point, which becomes available to the plants as condensation. When the night temperature drops the air’s moisture-holding capabilities, down comes the life-giving water and it is that cycle which waters the plant life. Removing 50,000 acre-feet of water will have a devastating effect on the Joshua Trees and the desert ecosystem altogether.”

Paul Collett, who with his brother owns 40 acres with a well near Bolo Station, which is west of Cadiz and overlies the same aquifer, called the project “a down and out illegal use of our water. This is a violation of our water rights. The Cadiz Company has an entitlement to some of that water but it belongs to all of us out here, including the Bureau of Land Management. To take that water and sell it to somebody that far away is more than a violation of the law. It’s an abomination. The supervisors should know better than to allow Cadiz Land to draw water from everybody and sell it to Orange County for their profit. It is astounding that it has gone this far. Nobody that I know of along the National Trails Highway – Route 66 – was notified of any meetings or the intent to take our water. All of a sudden, we do not have any assurance that the water table we use and which the landowners along this highway depend on for their livelihoods will have water in the future. Something is drastically wrong here.”

Seth Shteir of Joshua Tree is the field representative for the California desert office of the National Parks Conservation Association. He said he had “concerns about the potential impact of this project on ground water resources, air quality, the desert’s ecosystems and the future of the Mojave National Reserve. There are shortcomings in the EIR. It is a document almost 3,000 pages long that raises more questions than it answers. What will the long term effects of this project be on federally designated wilderness areas and what will it be on the Mojave Preserve? How will this project impact regional ground water resources? What will be the effects on air quality? The association raised funds and hired our own hydrologist to look into and examine the Cadiz Company’s claims because we believe their EIR modeling is flawed. Cadiz is claiming the recharge into the Cadiz Valley is 32,500 acre-feet annually, which is greater than the combined recharge in the stream flow of the Big Pine-to Bishop area in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. Our hydrologist has looked at that issue and thinks the recharge is more around 14,000 acre-feet per year in terms of the closed basin’s desert watershed. Because the modeling is flawed, it is difficult to assess the impacts of the project. It is also difficult to assess those impacts because of the scope and magnitude of the project.

The opposition to the project includes one of Orange County’s leading citizens, former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook.

“This is one of the most outrageous proposals I have seen in my 25 years as an environmental activist,” Cook said. “That in this day and age a private developer would come in and extract groundwater from an ecologically sensitive desert aquifer without any kind of recharge is unbelievable. That a water agency from the coastal area is going that far inland to take water out of the desert, as if the desert has no need for the water, makes no sense. What entitles them to pull that water out of the ground and sell it elsewhere?”

“The EIR has numerous flaws,” Cook continued. “Their recent statements at the hearing in Joshua Tree make it clear they have no intent to do recharge. The EIR makes it clear they will not do recharge and that they are interested only in pulling water out of the aquifer and will never achieve phase two, which they have left for some future unknown entity to do.”

Musser-Lopez said, ““What entitles one small, barely break-even farm, Cadiz, currently using only 2,000 to 5,000 acre-feet of water per year for their operations, the right to sell 50,000 to 75,000 acre-feet per year of San Bernardino County’s water at a fluctuating price of $300 to $700 per acre-foot, for a potential profit of $15 million to $50 million per year? Cadiz claims that they are entitled to this massive amount of groundwater based on the harebrained idea that a small amount of water evaporating on a desert dry lake, after a seldom rain, is a waste of water, and that this small amount of evaporation justifies Cadiz Corporation to take all the groundwater before it has a chance to reach a spot where it might evaporate. Demonstrating the unsound reasoning behind this scheme, Cadiz also proposes to reclaim excess water during wet years by putting it back in the very place they say water is being wasted by evaporation.”

Ervin, Adams, Fick, Collett, Shteir, Cook and Musser-Lopez said they are resolved to a complete reexamination of the project under different terms. “We want to move the hearing process out from under an Orange County quasi-governmental entity to before the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors,” Musser-Lopez said. “We want individuals who represent us and who are answerable to us as part of the elective process to make this decision. We want to ensure an environmental review process that will not exclude data relevant to the conservation of the desert’s most precious resource and we want to have included in the environmental impact report by reference all of the data that was presented with regard to this project ten years ago, when it was rejected.”

Collectively, the project opponents are requesting a 90-day extension of the deadline for public input on the project.

Judie Panneton, a spokeswoman with the California Water Control Board in Sacramento, told the Sentinel, “Regarding the groundwater component of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage project, based on the staff’s initial review, it does not appear that it is subject to the permitting authority of the State Water Board, Division of Water Rights. According to current law, the State Water Board does not have authority to issue permits for diversion of percolating groundwater. In certain areas when groundwater is pumped, it may be subject to regulation by a local entity, like the county or a groundwater management district, even if you do not need a water right permit. The law does require that anyone annually extracting more than 25 acre-feet of groundwater within the counties of San Bernardino, Ventura, Riverside, or Los Angeles to file an annual report of their extraction with either the State Water Board or a local groundwater agency.”

February 1, 2012

African-Americans Shaping the California Desert: Homesteading in the Mojave

by Chris Clarke

Journalist Delilah L. Beasley documented African-Americans' contribution to California in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In this era when "urban" has become a coded phrase meaning "African-American," it can be easy to forget that California's desert backcountry has a rich African-American history of its own. Black California history isn't limited to the 213 and the 510: the 760 is pretty well-represented in its own right.

For generations the California deserts represented both opportunity and the possibility of being left alone to live your own life. Both of these siren songs were alluring to many African-Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The deserts of California, namely the Mohave and at Victorville, are government lands, and quite a few colored people have taken up homesteads on this land and are improving them. Some sections have been found to contain oil. Many of the colored people have bought this land and afterwards sold it for a good margin.

So wrote Delilah L. Beasley, the first African-American woman to land a regular writing gig with a major metropolitan daily newspaper, in her 1919 book The Negro Trail Blazers of California. Beasley, quite an interesting figure herself, traveled the length and breadth of the state doing research for the book. The work almost killed her. A poignant note in the preface reads:

During the past year the author has been in very serious ill health and all during the long months of illness there were a few good, staunch friends who voluntarily sent money whenever they wrote and never allowed her for one moment to entertain a thought that she would not get well nor complete the book.

Beasley did live another 15 years after writing that preface, long enough to land a column at the Oakland Tribune, lobby for California's passage of an anti-lynching law, and organize for the establishment of the then-controversial International House at UC Berkeley.

The legacy of the desert homesteaders she mentioned was not always as monumental. The East Mojave's Lanfair Valley, now mostly part of the Mojave National Preserve, offers an example.

In 1910, the first year of homesteading in the Lanfair Valley, six land claims were filed by black people, a respectable proportion of the total number of claims. All in all 17 African-American families homesteaded the valley, most of them in the vicinity of Dunbar - a settlement intended to serve as a center for African-American folks. Dunbar's Post Office opened in 1912, within a month of the opening of another Post Office a tenth of a mile away, in Lanfair. The two offices operated in a kind of de facto racial segregation until 1914, when, according to local historian Dennis Casebier, the U.S. Post Office noticed the redundancy and closed Dunbar's P.O.

Ambitious projects nearby included an orphanage for black youth and the planned community of Harts, billed by its founders G.W. Harts and Howard Folke as "bringing freedom and independence to a limited number of colored people." Neither really got off the ground, though a few young boys did move there from orphanages in the Los Angeles area for a time.

African-American homesteaders proved more resilient. The first half of the decade after 1910 was unusually rainy, and the Lanfair Valley saw a flurry of attempts at wheat farming, some more successful than others. Black families lived with their white neighbors in what must have seemed a liberatingly democratic fashion, the adults helping on each other's farms and the kids sitting together in school. This early integration had its limits, though. As Casebier writes,

In talking with people from that period (black and white) there is an almost categorical denial of any prejudice or discrimination between whites and blacks... In spite of this kind of testimony - which I consider to be honest but somewhat naive - there is evidence of some discrimination.

In speaking of her black neighbors one resident] said "I don't think they ever came to any of our dances." There's a reason for this. I have a copy of the bylaws for the social organization in Lanfair Valley called the Yucca Club and under the heading of who is eligible for membership the bylaws stated clearly that a member could be "any white person in the valley." This is the club that organized the dances.

Also in interviewing black homesteaders (remembering they were children in the teens) they seemed to know little about the community picnics and pioneer celebrations held at Lanfair on the 4th of July and they did not attend them. That tells me that likely their parents did not feel welcome at those gatherings - as they were specifically not welcome at the community dances each month.

Black and white homesteaders had a common enemy in those days: the Rock Springs Cattle Company, which held grazing rights to much of the Lanfair Valley, resented the homesteaders and did its best to chase them out. According to the National Park Service,

The homesteaders experienced constant conflict with the Rock Springs Land & Cattle Company. The company considered Lanfair Valley to be some of the best part of its range, and resented the "intrusion" of settlement. The company denied water to the settlers, forcing them to use the few public springs or dig expensive wells. Cattle trampled carefully nurtured crops, sometimes allegedly after the cowboys cut the nesters' fences. In return, the farmers would occasionally help themselves to beef. The cattle company brought in hired thugs, and rumors swirled claiming some homesteaders' cabins burned to ashes under mysterious circumstances.

In the end it was rain as much as racism that undid the African-American community in the Lanfair Valley: by the second half of the decade the climate reverted to its extremely arid type, wheat crops failed, and one by one homesteaders moved away to better opportunities elsewhere. By 1927 the population had dwindled to the point where the Postal Service was compelled to close the Lanfair Post Office. What remains now is cleared land, foundation stones, and the occasional fence line -- some of it still owned by the descendants of the homesteaders.

But in the few short boom years residents of the Lanfair Valley may well have enjoyed more relative freedom, and less hatred, than any other African-Americans in the U.S. In Casebier's words:

The fertile soil yielded crops with which homesteaders (black and white) could sustain themselves. The children made their own games and toys and played among the wonderland of Joshua trees. From where they lived east of Lanfair a half mile or more -- they could see the smoke of the train rising above the Joshuas and hear the whistle as the train came through twice a day - once early in the morning from Goffs to Searchlight and later in the day back from Searchlight to Goffs. They had a fine school in Lanfair with efficient teachers and friendly students and parents. There were outings to magical places like Fort Piute and Piute Creek and occasional visits to Goffs and sometimes even into Needles.

Chris Clarke is an environmental writer of two decades standing. Author of Walking With Zeke, he writes regularly at his acclaimed blog Coyote Crossing and comments on desert issues here every week. He lives in Palm Springs.

Museum plans events for Arizona Centennial

COLORADO RIVER MUSEUM: The Colorado River Historical Society and Museum, between the Laughlin Bridge and Davis Camp, is planning two days of events for local celebration of the Arizona Centennial.

The Daily News

BULLHEAD CITY — With the Arizona Centennial less than two weeks away, the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum is preparing two days’ worth of events for the public to enjoy.

Museum president Dave McDaniel said the society has been hard at work on creating an interactive pathway around the museum grounds that will provide snippets of history from Arizona’s century of statehood. The path will include items that hearken back to the area’s history, with numbered markers that correspond to a brochure visitors can reference to read about Bullhead City’s past, from the first Native American settlers, to the Colorado riverboat days of the mid-19th century, to the founding of Hardyville, the area’s original white settlement.

“The new pathway that runs around the museum is going to be designated the Arizona Centennial Pathway, and along the pathway we’re going to have little snapshots of history,” McDaniel said. “Along each stop there are numbers, and in the brochure, they give information about Hardyville, steamboats in the area, the Beale Wagon Road, and we have a mural that was painted by Paul Jackson, who is the tribal artist for the Mojaves.”

Inside the museum, McDaniel said, visitors will find both current and historical maps of the state dating back to 1912, as well as some other artifacts that are indicative of local life during the early part of the last century.

“On Feb. 11, we’re going to have an open house from 11 in the morning until 2, and the city council’s and some of the Fort Mojave tribal members are invited,” McDaniel added. “And we’re going to have some souvenirs we’re going to give out. We’re going to have coin envelopes with wheat pennies in them that mention the Colorado River Museum and the ‘cent’ennial.”

Then at 1 p.m. on the Feb. 11, McDaniel said the museum will host a going-away celebration in honor of Bullhead City’s first elected mayor, J. Michael “Mike” Love, who will be departing to Sacramento, Calif., with his wife Gloria after spending the last 32 years here. On Wednesday, Love dropped by the Bullhead City Hall, where he bid his formal good-byes to current mayor Jack Hakim and City Manager Toby Cotter, receiving a certificate of appreciation and the key to the city for his service.

Following the open house, on the day of the actual centennial, Feb. 14, McDaniel said the museum is planning a host of programs for the day, running from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The programs will include presentations on a number of subjects including Hardyville and Original Bullhead, as well as a video presentation on the steamboats of the Colorado River and a hike to “Museum Rock,” a nearby Indian petroglyph.

The museum’s regular hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, or a full schedule of centennial events, call 928-758-7643 or 928-754-3399.