By TOMOYA SHIMURA
Orange County Register
A project that will pump drinking water from a Mojave Desert aquifer and pipe it to south Orange County has taken another step forward.
The Santa Margarita Water District board of directors recently approved establishing the Fenner Valley Water Authority to control and operate the delivery of the groundwater.
The district is moving forward with the plan after an Orange County Superior Court judge in May shot down lawsuits filed over the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project by environmental groups trying to stop the project.
District spokesman Jonathan Volzke said operating under the joint powers authority shields Santa Margarita and its customers from liabilities.
Los Angeles-based Cadiz Inc. plans to install wells to capture water from the natural aquifer that lies beneath 70 square miles of remote valley east of Twentynine Palms. The private developer which owns the land would also build an underground 43-mile pipeline along railroad right-of-way to the Colorado River Aqueduct, which delivers water to Southern California residents.
Cadiz is estimated to spend $225 to $275 million for the construction, spokeswoman Courtney Degener said.
There’s no timeline for the beginning of construction, Degener said. The company needs to reach an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles on moving water through its aqueduct, she said.
The opposition has so far filed appeals in four of the six lawsuits, but the project will continue moving forward regardless, Degener said.
The well would pump some 16 billion gallons of water a year, and Volzke said Santa Margarita plans to purchase at least 5,000 acre feet a year, or 20 percent of its water supply, from the Cadiz project. The district serves 165,000 people in Coto de Caza, Ladera Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and parts of Mission Viejo and San Clemente.
Santa Margarita buys 85 percent of its water from the Metropolitan Water District, which has increased water prices each year for the last two decades, Volzke said. The Cadiz project could reduce the district’s reliance on the Metropolitan Water District.
“It would give us more local control over the cost of water,” Volzke said.
Once built, Cadiz plans to lease the facilities to the Fenner Valley Water Authority, which will oversee day-to-day operation of the well and pipeline.
Cadiz is trying to reach an agreement with other water agencies that have shown interest in buying water from the project, Degener said. They include: Jurupa Community Services District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, California Water Service Company and Three Valleys Municipal Water District, San Luis Water District and Lake Arrowhead Community Services District.