May 29, 2013

Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging Cadiz water project

Seven suits from three groups still pending over plan to pump Mojave Desert groundwater.


SANTA ANA – An Orange County judge last week dismissed a citizen group's lawsuit challenging the Cadiz Valley water project, with trials expected to start soon in seven suits from three other groups opposing plans to tap a remote Mojave Desert aquifer.

Cadiz Inc., which owns land above the groundwater basin in eastern San Bernardino County, still needs to secure some $225 million in funding and approval from public agencies such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California before it can begin drilling wells and laying pipeline for the project, which would deliver 50,000 acre-feet of water to Southern California districts each year.

Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense sued Santa Margarita Water District and its board of directors on Aug. 31, a month after the district approved a 1,668-page environmental impact review for the project.

The district hopes to buy 5,000 acre-feet a year, or 20 percent of its water supply, from Cadiz. The water district – which serves more than 155,000 customers in Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Talega in San Clemente and surrounding unincorporated areas – volunteered to serve as lead agency on the project, overseeing nearly two years of environmental reviews and supervising development going forward.

The citizens group also named Los Angeles-based Cadiz, San Bernardino County and other public agencies in the lawsuit, saying environmental reviews weren't conducted in accordance with state law and that the agencies didn't do enough to protect groundwater supplies.

"Obviously we're pleased it was dismissed and dismissed with prejudice," district spokeswoman Michele Miller said Tuesday, with the citizens group unable to again challenge the project's environmental impact review or its groundwater management, monitoring and mitigation plan in Orange County Superior Court.

Corey Briggs, who represented the citizens group in the suit, said the group has no plans to appeal or pursue further action over the project.

"There are other parties that are perfectly capable of continuing the lawsuit, and we don't need any more cooks in the kitchen," Briggs said by phone from his San Diego office. "That just drives up costs for everyone."

Texas-based Tetra Technologies Inc. has filed four claims over potential impacts to its liquid calcium chloride operations in the area. Laborers' International Union of North America is suing over potential danger from munitions used in the project area during World War II training operations. A coalition including the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society filed two claims protesting potential environmental impacts.

All of the cases are being coordinated under Judge Gail Andler, with a hearing set for Monday to consider consolidating the seven outstanding claims.

What is the Cadiz project?

The Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project involves installing wells to tap the natural aquifer that lies beneath 70 square miles of Mojave Desert land owned by Cadiz Inc. The private developer would also build a 43-mile pipeline from its eastern San Bernardino County property along railroad right-of-way to the Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to residents in Orange County and beyond.

Proponents say the project will capture groundwater that otherwise flows to nearby dry lake beds. Rather than let it evaporate, they say the additional 50,000 acre-feet of water each year could be used to shore up local supplies and stabilize rates.

Opponents have cried foul over potential impacts on the environment, water quality and nearby mining operations, along with questioning how the project's environmental reviews were conducted.