May 8, 2015

Project pumping desert water for O.C. to begin next year

Cadiz Valley Water Project
Orange County Register

Construction for a project that will pump drinking water from a Mojave Desert aquifer and pipe it to south Orange County is slated to begin early next year.

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.

Once built, Cadiz plans to lease the facilities to a joint powers authority created by the Santa Margarita Water District, which will oversee day-to-day operation of the well and pipeline.

Santa Margarita hopes the project will reduce the district’s reliance on the wholesaler Metropolitan Water District, from which Santa Margarita buys 85 percent of its water. The MWD has increased water prices over the last two decades.

The well would pump some 16 billion gallons of water a year, and Santa Margarita plans to purchase about 20 percent of its water supply from the project. The district serves 165,000 people in Coto de Caza, Ladera Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and parts of Mission Viejo and San Clemente.

However, the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project has met resistance from a coalition of environmental groups, who argue the project would dry up desert springs and hurt vegetation and wildlife habitat.

The groups filed lawsuits after the project was approved by Santa Margarita’s board and San Bernardino County supervisors in 2012.

The plaintiffs claimed that Santa Margarita, not in the area the project will affect, shouldn’t have been the lead agency to oversee environmental reviews for Cadiz. They also said San Bernardino County violated its desert groundwater ordinance by approving the project.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler shot down the lawsuits last year, stating that the plaintiffs had failed to prove the project would violate state environmental laws.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society then appealed the decision to the state’s Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana and filed their opening briefs in April.

“All cases were resoundingly denied in superior court, and we stand by that record and we think everything will be upheld by the court of appeals,” Cadiz spokeswoman Courtney Degener said.

The company is waiting for the MWD board to approve moving Cadiz water through its aqueduct later this summer and plans to start construction at the beginning of next year, she said. Cadiz is expected to spend $225 to $275 million on construction.

In addition to Santa Margarita, Cadiz has entered into agreements with the following water providers interested in buying water from the project, Degener said. They include: Three Valleys Municipal Water District, Jurupa Community Services District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, California Water Service Company, Lake Arrowhead Community Services District and San Luis Water District.