March 16, 2014

Cadiz Water Project: Reader Rebuttal


By Robert S. Bower
Contributing Writer

A Register editorial opines the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project should go forward because Southern California needs water [“Drier than we have to be,” March 10]. Unfortunately, that view is based on misinformation and an “ends justify the means” mentality.

First, the misinformation. The project will not “store” imported water. Nor will it “conserve” groundwater – it will pump groundwater at a rate well in excess of the rate at which the aquifer is recharged, without any replenishment requirement. At the assumed recharge rate, Cadiz will overdraft the aquifer by 18,000-to-43,000 acre-feet, every year for 50 years. Once pumping starts, the aquifer will not recover for 117 years; if recharge is lower than assumed, recovery could take 440 years.

As for justification, the editorial claims Cadiz did its due diligence, and the only impediments to the project are those pesky lawsuits challenging the environmental impact report under “oppressive CEQA rules.” As a California Environmental Quality Act practitioner who usually defends EIRs, I am aware CEQA is sometimes used for political purposes. Here, however, it was Cadiz who gamed the system.

CEQA requires that the public agency with principal responsibility for approving the project act as lead agency, because the lead agency determines the EIR's scope and whether the project will proceed. The only agency with regulatory authority over the project was the county of San Bernardino, which had to approve a groundwater plan before Cadiz could pump groundwater.

Cadiz, however, orchestrated events so that Santa Margarita Water District was lead agency rather than San Bernardino County. SMWD's only approval was of its agreement with Cadiz concerning its purchase of project water.

A primary purpose of CEQA is to make elected officials accountable to their constituents. SMWD is located 225 miles away from the project, and virtually all project impacts will occur in San Bernardino County. Cadiz's maneuvering stripped away all accountability because SMWD's elected decision-makers are not accountable to voters in San Bernardino County.

The project should proceed only if the EIR complied with CEQA, not simply because we need water. It is a slippery slope when decisions are justified on the Machiavellian notion that the ends justify the means.

Robert S. Bower is counsel for Delaware Tetra Technologies Inc., which opposes the Cadiz Project.