22 Aug News: A response to calls for Federal Review of the Cadiz Valley Water Project
The Cadiz Project, which will serve the water needs of 100,000 Southern California families and generate 5,900 jobs, has been fully reviewed and approved under the California Environmental Quality Act, the most stringent environmental law in America. The Project includes strong monitoring and enforcement to ensure that it is safe and sustainable and offers many local benefits, including significant investment in the local economy and certainty that water will be available for Southern California.
Recently, opponents have misrepresented the Project and called for a second duplicative federal environmental review in an effort to delay the project and the benefits it will bring. Such calls ignore the lengthy review process already completed – a review process in which project opponents participated fully and had opportunity to influence the result — and unnecessarily undermine the serious efforts of Southern California water providers to safely and sustainably serve the region’s water needs and create local jobs.
We hope to correct the most common misrepresentations of the Project made in recent calls for federal review by offering the following facts:
Significant Science & Technical Analysis Support the Project As Designed
The Project proposal has been subject to thorough technical study and scientific analysis by top, trusted professionals and unpaid volunteers with technical, academic and governmental agency experience. This analysis included a comprehensive study of the 1,300 sq. mile watershed surrounding the Project, verification through video-logging newly-drilled wells, field mapping of the surface geology, surveying the springs and washes, measuring precipitation and evaporation, sampling of soils and extensive modeling.
Using the data gathered in the field and the latest U.S. Geological Survey model designed specifically for desert environments, experts estimated in 2010 that the aquifer system contains between 17-34 million acre-feet of groundwater in storage (about the amount in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir) with natural recharge occurring at approximately 32,000 acre-feet per year. Despite the confidence in the estimates, in order to address concerns expressed by the opponents and their paid experts, potential for environmental impacts was evaluated during the permitting process using a worst case natural recharge of only 5,000 AF/year, the amount safely used by our agricultural operations for more than 20 years. The analysis still showed that even at the most conservative recharge rate critical resources of the desert will not be harmed. The analysis was peer-reviewed and corroborated by independent experts retained by government agencies that reviewed the Project, including the County of San Bernardino.
Multi-year State Environmental Review and Public Process Already Completed
From Feb 2011 – July 2012, the Project proposal went through a thorough environmental review in accordance with CEQA. Lengthy public hearings were held and thousands of pages of comment letters from local, state and federal government agencies, stakeholders and interest groups were submitted as part of the CEQA review by Project opponents and supporters alike. Every comment was addressed point-by-point in the final 26,000 page Final Environmental Impact Report. After the public comment phase, the Project was approved by the County of San Bernardino and the Santa Margarita Water District following an extensive series of open public meetings.
The CEQA process also led to the adoption of an extensive Groundwater Management, Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) which will use over 100 new monitoring installations to track operations. The GMMMP established a “floor,” or maximum groundwater drawdown level, over a two mile radius from the center of the Project wellfield at 80 feet below the current water table. If the water table drops below that level, the Project would be halted. San Bernardino County will have independent and final authority to enforce the GMMMP. All reports will be posted online. These conditions are more stringent than those required by CEQA and they were adopted by the local County to redress opponents concerns.
The Project Benefits All of Southern California, including the Desert and San Bernardino County
To stoke animosity towards the Project, opponents often use an “us vs. them” approach by claiming Project supplies will be used for “lawns and pools” or that the “lion’s share of the water is going to the Coast.” Such provocative claims are false and a major oversimplification of the water needs throughout the region.
Six water providers that serve customers in seven So Cal counties are participating in the Project and, even though an Orange County-based water agency led the environmental review, San Bernardino County will actually receive the largest percentage of the water supplies created by the Project. California is facing a long-term water challenge and any additional local water added to the system is a benefit to every water user in Southern California (residents, businesses, hospitals and farmers) as it reduces demand on our imported sources. Further, in Phase 2, when the opportunity to connect the Project to the Barstow area can be realized, water districts that serve population centers in the High-Desert will have new access to water and storage available from the Project.
Beyond the water supply benefits, the Project promises to make significant contributions to the local economy. Inland Empire economist John Husing estimates that the Project will create over $800 million in economic activity and 1,500 jobs per year during construction. It will also increase local government tax revenues over the long-term, which includes $600,000 per year for the Needles School District. Cadiz has committed 80% of Project investment to local businesses and 50% of the jobs to local workers, including a pledge to hire veterans to fill 10% of the job openings.
CEQA Approval Meets a Tougher Environmental Standard
CEQA is regarded as the toughest environmental law in the nation and similar to but more stringent than the federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The US Council on Environmental Quality, the policy board that oversees NEPA, recently said in a March 2013 guidebook, “NEPA and CEQA are similar, both in intent and in the review process (the analyses, public engagement, and document preparation) that they dictate.”
Recent calls for a federal environmental review presume that a NEPA review would reach a different conclusion than has already been achieved under CEQA. In fact, an earlier iteration of the Project, which would have withdrawn higher amounts of water from the watershed, received approval in 2002 from the US Department of the Interior and the consent of several federal agencies including the USGS and the National Parks Service. In the 2002 approval, the federal government stated: “Future water supply needs in Metropolitan’s Southern California service area, without implementation of the Cadiz Project, would substantially exceed demands by the year 2020. The public benefits of the Cadiz Project are compelling reasons for the Department of the Interior to cooperate to the greatest extent possible in assisting California in meeting its water supply goals.”
(click here to review the 2001 Record of Decision.)
The call for a second review under a weaker federal standard is not an effort to achieve better environmental review but is an attempt to delay the Project from moving ahead and should be rejected as an unnecessary use of federal resources.
No Federal Environmental Review Is Required
As previously stated, in 2002 the United States Department of the Interior approved a much larger form of Cadiz Project that would have excavated open public land to lay a pipeline that connected the Project to the Colorado River Aqueduct. The Project was changed in 2008 to avoid this impact. Instead the Project relocated the path of the proposed pipeline from open public land so that it will now be entirely within an active railroad right of way owned by the Arizona & California Railroad (“ARZC”) rather than on undisturbed federal desert lands.
Such use of railroad routes is commonplace across the country and serves a clear public interest, as utilities have been encouraged to tuck new lines (water lines, gas lines, fiber optic lines) into existing rail corridors rather than create new paths across untouched land. The pipeline alignment change did not avoid environmental review. It minimized impacts and eliminated the need for any permits from the federal government but the Project was still subject to stringent environmental review under the CEQA process.
We are pleased to have the ARZC railroad participating in the Project and are proud of the benefits it offers long-term rail operations. In addition to providing water for ARZC’s safety and operational needs, we are currently pursuing plans to develop a visitor-oriented steam train operation along the route to promote the desert’s rich railroading history. We look forward to working with the local community on this endeavor.
The Project’s Environmental Review documents are available at www.cadizwaterproject.com/eir.