March 6, 2013

Cadiz project bad policy, bad for economy


By Dave Oeshner
San Bernardino Sun

There continues to be a lot of misinformation about the economic benefits and environmental impacts of the proposed Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project; and it's time to set the record straight.

As a concerned citizen of the small desert town of Amboy - with a population of 5 - and plant manager for the National Chloride Co. of America's Bristol Dry Lake operation, I am confident the Cadiz Project will kill jobs including my own, and stands to create a wide range of threats to our economy, air quality and natural resources.

I call on San Bernardino County citizens and our elected officials including the newly elected Rep. Paul Cook and our 1st District supervisor to take a strong stance in protecting our jobs and our communities by preventing this proposal from moving forward.

National Chloride Co. of America has produced liquid calcium chloride brine in its evaporative ponds on Bristol Dry Lake since the 1950s, but our roots go back to the 1930s. Our operations depend on a constant downhill flow of brine water from Fenner Gap and across Cadiz Inc. property and Bristol Dry Lake. This brine water picks up sodium and calcium minerals, essential to our production processes via our collection ditches and evaporative ponds. Products created are food-grade calcium chloride for canning, beer and cheese as well as industrial brines for construction materials, oil and gas production. Through our process sodium chloride is also produced for cattle feed, chicken feed and tanning cattle hides and road deicing.

Cadiz Inc. claims that the recharge rate of the Bristol and Fenner watersheds is 32,500 acre feet per year; but I've observed local weather patterns for almost 50 years and want to assure the public that's not the case. Last spring, we had zero rain; which was not unusual for the California desert. It doesn't take a mathematician to know that zero rain, while pumping 50,000 acre feet on average per year, puts the aquifers in the red, and stands to negatively impact our mining operation.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, increased irrigation on the Cadiz Farm for citrus and grapes lowered some nearby wells by 10 feet and they have never recovered. This small example is big evidence of how even limited pumping impacts this region's groundwater resources.

Cadiz also claims that draining Bristol and Cadiz dry lakes won't harm air quality. Bristol Dry Lake has a hard crust which can break up and create dust. When winter winds kick up higher than 15 miles per hour, it creates considerable dust storms. I've seen dust storms on Bristol Dry Lake diminish visibility to 10 feet. In my mind, the situation is similar to Owens Lake, which became the largest source of lung-harming pm10 pollutants in the entire United States. Deprived of water, Bristol Dry Lake will create more dust and also harm air quality.

For more than 50 years, National Chloride Co. of America has employed people, created significant revenue, provided a great tax base for San Bernardino County, and supplied a natural product that helps the economy. Our business is already stressed by paying increased governmental maintenance fees for our mining claims and this expense has increased from $17,000 to over $135,000 in just a few years. Now we stand to be ruined by the Cadiz pumping, with negative impacts to companies who purchase from us, and consumers who purchase cheese, beer, feed and construction materials.

Cadiz seems eerily reminiscent of the Old West when ranchers upstream deprived those downstream of water critical for their herds. Fast forward to present day; it's the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project that stands to block water from our long-standing mining operation and run us out of business. We've been here over the long haul. The Cadiz project, on the other hand, is a newcomer that jeopardizes our investment and contribution to the economy. It should not move forward.

Dave Oeshner is plant manager of the National Chloride Co. of America.