31 Mar News: Op Ed – The Cadiz Water Project – What You Need to Know
By Scott Slater
March 29, 2012
The following provides an overview of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project and offers a response to questions recently voiced in the online community about the science behind the Project. The Project is a Southern California water conservation project that would capture and conserve groundwater to provide a new, reliable water supply for approximately 200,000 individuals across the region per year.
Water in California
The economy of Southern California is dependent on the importation of surface water from the Owens Valley, the San Francisco/San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River. Even the wastewater we use for recycling requires the maintenance of imported supplies as the original source water and for blending. However, there is large annual hydrologic variability between wet and dry years in California. Over the last decade this hydrologic variability has combined with stiffening regulatory standards to reduce the quantity of water that may be reliably imported to Southern California.
Local water supplies are also limited. There are areas within Southern California that have little or no access to groundwater and others that overlie water quality impaired sources. Those areas that do enjoy access to groundwater are often subject to sharing restrictions governing how much water can be withdrawn in any year.
The economic threat caused by shortage is more acute because there are few local options available to off-set reductions in imported water. Consequently, Southern California water agencies tasked with the public duty of providing water to their customers must decide how they will address the existing and projected shortages and at what expense.
Increased conservation and local projects appear as the most rational approaches to manage demand and diversify water supply portfolios. Efforts to restore and maintain the imported water deliveries to Southern California at a higher level must continue, but the relative magnitude of those efforts and their ultimate cost can be shaped by our ability to achieve local successes.
About the Project
Six water agencies are currently exploring the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project as a way to improve their water supply reliability and in turn benefit the region. By design, the Project, located in eastern San Bernardino County’s Cadiz Valley, would capture and conserve 50,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater without causing significant adverse environmental impacts on the desert environment (apart from temporary construction emissions) and provide a new, reliable water supply throughout Southern California. The groundwater currently flows through the aquifer system beneath a 35,000-acre desert property owned by Cadiz Inc. and ultimately evaporates from the nearby Bristol and Cadiz Dry-Lakes at the base of the watershed. The Project facilities would be placed entirely on Cadiz-owned property and other private, disturbed land, instead of creating new paths across undisturbed parts of the desert.
A second phase of the Project would provide underground storage for imported surplus water in wet years but only after the first phase of the Project proves viable and after the second phase undergoes a second round of environmental review. During the second phase, stored water would be banked in the aquifer system and held in storage until it was needed in dry-years or in the event of a catastrophe in the Delta that significantly reduces supplies available to Southern California.
An earlier formulation of the Project was pursued from 1998 – 2002 with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (“MWD”) that would have allowed for the storage and recovery of up to 150,000 acre-feet of groundwater in any year. The earlier project was designed differently to address a specific need at a different time. At the time, the project’s primary goal was as a dry-year groundwater storage opportunity that would complement other programs intended to get California within its Colorado River entitlement of 4.4 million acre-feet. And even though the United States Department of the Interior exhaustively reviewed this earlier project, including granting all necessary federal approvals, it faced opposition from environmental groups and ultimately failed to obtain approval by the MWD Board.
Cadiz was not blind to the criticisms of the earlier project, and the present Project was designed with respect for the historical concerns raised about the desert watershed and its habitats. More than $10 million and three years were spent in revisiting commentary regarding the earlier project, gathering new data and developing an innovative plan that proposes to conserve groundwater before it evaporates from the Bristol and Cadiz Dry-Lakes.
The great weight of scientific literature, observed physical conditions and collected data demonstrate that the dry-lakes function as an evaporative pump transmitting groundwater into the atmosphere. Some critics of the Project are understandably confused by the geologic function of dry-lakes. However, the massive salt deposits that have successfully been mined for generations directly from Bristol and Cadiz Dry-Lakes provide irrefutable proof of the natural evaporative process occurring there.
Article 10, Section 2 of the California Constitution was added by the State’s voters in 1928 to promote the efficient use of water and prohibit waste. The Amendment has been consistently interpreted by the Courts of California and the policy now guides our use of all water, wherever it may be found.
The Project embraces this notion. Accordingly, the Project seeks to benefit from decades of experience in groundwater management techniques to withdraw groundwater beneath our property for two principal purposes: the conservation of natural recharge and the retrieval of fresh potable groundwater before it can become hyper-saline and evaporate. The groundwater that is presently destined for waste by evaporation at the Bristol and Cadiz Dry-Lakes cannot be conserved and saved for beneficial use without technological intervention.
The Project is not a mining project; the resource is renewable. The Project has a term of 50 years and is being permitted as such. While we believe it is bad public policy to allow the waste of water, if the Project is not renewed after the initial term, whatever quantities of groundwater are removed from the ground as part of the Project can be replaced by rainfall and recharge once the Project concludes. If we don’t implement the Project, however, the opportunity to conserve groundwater that evaporates each year will be lost forever.
New Science for a Sustainable Project
The steps that Cadiz has undertaken to implement a safe and sustainable project are substantial. First, in 2008, Cadiz entered into a lease agreement with an existing railroad operation at the Project area allowing the water pipeline to be constructed within the railroad’s disturbed right of way rather than crossing undisturbed federal desert. The pipeline will also provide water to the railroad operator for fire suppression to reduce the risk and environmental impacts of trestle fires.
In 2009, to address questions raised in connection with the former project, we also retained top and trusted industry professionals to undertake a new and comprehensive analysis of groundwater resources in the 1,300 sq. mile watershed. New data had been developed by the United States Government and was available within public data bases. We drilled wells, video-logged the drilling, mapped the geology, visited the springs in the surrounding mountains, checked washes, measured precipitation and sampled the soils. And we did all of this before initiating environmental review.
One of our consultants, CH2M HILL, a global leader in water, environmental, energy, and resources consulting, analyzed all of the new physical data and, using a current U.S. Geological Survey model called Infil3.0, estimated the annual recharge to the basin and the amount of water in storage underground in the watershed. The watershed area tributary to the Project is more than twice the size of the City of Los Angeles and roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. CH2M HILL estimated that the aquifer system contains between 17-34 million acre-feet already in storage, with tens of thousands of acre-feet evaporating ever year.
Applying the USGS Infil 3.0 model, which was developed in 2008 specifically for desert environments, natural recharge is estimated to be approximately 32,000 acre-feet per year. CH2M HILL found this to be neither the highest nor the lowest estimate of natural recharge for the area. However, it is the estimate arrived at after the most exhaustive and comprehensive review and it has been peer reviewed. The estimation of recharge was followed by the development of a groundwater modeling effort to examine potential impacts if the estimation were off by as much as 85 percent.
Groundwater Protection & Environmental Review
Both the CH2M HILL study and a separate impact analysis along with a proposed monitoring and mitigation strategy were made available for a peer review evaluation by the Cadiz Project Groundwater Stewardship Committee (GSC). The GSC is chaired by Dr. John Sharp a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Sharp is a leading expert in groundwater hydrology and carbonate aquifers, similar to one of the aquifers found beneath the Project area. Other members of the GSC include Dr. Charles Groat, former director of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) during the time the former project was evaluated, and international groundwater experts from the regulatory, institutional, and academic sectors. Dr. Groat has said about the Project: “I find the project to be viable and capable of being implemented and administered without deleterious effects on the environment.”
The Project proposes to employ a comprehensive Groundwater Management, Monitoring, and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP). The GMMMP is extraordinary and includes far-reaching and extensive specific monitoring measures for water, air, springs, subsidence and saline/fresh water movement even where there is no data to suggest there will be an adverse impact for the purpose of ensuring that the basin is managed safely. The plan also includes extensive measures to address a broad range of concerns or impacts to other users of water in the basin.
Against this backdrop, the Project is currently undergoing a public review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was released in December 2011 and a public comment period was held for 100 days. During that time, proponents and opponents sent in written comment letters. In addition, two public comment meetings were held to receive verbal comments. A workshop was also held, attended by most of the experts that contributed to the DEIR, to answer questions about the science and the Project.
One of the comment letters received during the comment period included a report by environmental engineering firm Johnson Wright Inc. (JWI) that challenges some of the science behind the Project. That report was recently circulated. The JWI report is not based upon any new data or test results, the JWI preparers did not visit the site and they have not indicated whether their report was subjected to any peer-review as was the underlying project. It is apparent that opponents of the Project hired JWI and released the report for the purpose of calling into questions the quantity of annual recharge and the estimates by CH2M HILL and create doubt about impacts of the Project.
The comments and report, however, miss the mark. The DEIR already provides a detailed overview of the wide range of recharge estimates for the area. Many previous estimates, especially those referred to by JWI, did not include the wealth of published data developed since 2001, the rigorous, localized detail or the updated modeling available from USGS since 2008 to reach their conclusions. As described above, based on the USGS Infil 3.0 model, the most comprehensive and best estimate (and not the highest) is that the recharge for these Watersheds would average 32,447 acre-feet/year.
More importantly, given the level of scrutiny and perceived uncertainty of the recharge rate during the review of the former project, the technical work for the new Project employed an impact analysis that addressed any potential disagreement regarding recharge rates. Accordingly, the impact analysis specifically uses a range of potential recharge values, including 5,000 acre-feet/yr, 16,000 AF/Y as well as 32,000 acre-feet. The JWI estimate is within this range. Even assuming a recharge of rate of 15% of the present best estimate, the modeling results show no adverse significant impacts on critical resources of the desert.
The release of the JWI report brought up a few other misconceptions about the Project that are important to address:
Desert Ecosystem. The proposed groundwater pumping will not impact desert wildlife that relies on springs that occur in the local mountain ranges located throughout the region. Data show that the plants and wildlife in the area are supported by precipitation that occurs annually throughout the watershed and not by groundwater in storage deep underground. The closest spring in the watershed to the proposed project wellfield is more than 10 miles away and substantially uphill (approximately 750 feet higher in elevation than the adjacent valley floor) in different geologic units. Where there are springs that support wildlife, including bighorn sheep, they have been found to be fed by rainfall, not groundwater. Springs cannot pull water to the surface against gravity from a groundwater basin hundreds of feet below ground.
Lowering of the Water Table. The Project provides for the temporally limited and planned draw down of the existing water table over 50 years. This is a customary and routine effect from groundwater pumping. The Project purposely lowers the water level to change the direction of flow of underground water to intercept natural recharge and prevent groundwater already in storage from continuing towards the saline brine zone and ultimately evaporating. Groundwater withdrawn as part of the Project will be replaced by rainfall and natural recharge. Once the Project term concludes, water levels will return to their current level.
Evaporation. The Project aims to stop losses of high-quality drinking water occurring at local dry-lakes. The dry-lake losses are not from evaporation of seasonal standing water from storm flows, but rather evaporation of shallow ground water that occurs over vast areas of the dry-lake surface. This is the water that will be conserved. Surface water evaporation and evapotranspiration by plant life will continue and will not be adversely impacted by Project operations.
Commitment to the Community
We have worked diligently for many years to design a project that does not harm the environment. Aside from the substantial water supply benefits, this innovative project will supply immediate and long-term economic stimulus as well. Inland Empire economist John E. Husing, Ph.D. reported that it would create and support over 5,900 jobs over 4 years and more than $878 million in economic activity. Cadiz has reserved a portion of the Project’s water for San Bernardino County and committed to using San Bernardino County based vendors for construction and implementation. The property tax revenues from the Project alone will provide millions of dollars every year to the County.
We believe we are pursuing this Project in the best way. We have proposed a safe and sustainable Project from a location in Southern California. It will provide reliable water at a higher quality than the nearby Colorado River supplies and it will not harm the desert — a community that we have been a part of for over 20 years through our ongoing organic farm operation. We will always be committed to our neighbors and the region. We are constantly exploring legacy commitments for the scenic and cultural benefit of the Cadiz Valley and we expect to make further announcements on the progress of these efforts in the coming months. To learn more, visit http://cadizinc.com/water-project/ .
Scott Slater is Cadiz Inc.’s President and General Counsel and is also a member of the Company’s Board of Directors. Mr. Slater is an accomplished negotiator and litigator and, in addition to his role with the Company, is also a shareholder in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the nation’s leading water practice firm. For 27 years, Mr. Slater’s legal practice has been focused on litigation and the negotiation of agreements related to the acquisition, distribution, and treatment of water. He has served as lead negotiator on a number of important water transactions, including the negotiation of the largest conservation-based water transfer in U.S. history on behalf of the San Diego County Water Authority. Mr. Slater is also the author of California Water Law and Policy, the state’s leading treatise on the subject, and has taught water law and policy courses at University of California, Santa Barbara, Pepperdine University, and the University of Western Australia, among others.