13 Sep Stewardship of Groundwater at Cadiz
As the largest agricultural operation in San Bernardino County, Cadiz takes seriously the responsible stewardship of our groundwater at Cadiz Ranch, which lies at the base of a watershed that is estimated to include 20 – 40 million acre-feet of water in storage, more than in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country. Its natural recharge from precipitation occurs in the upper elevations and percolates down to the aquifer system over time. Managing this groundwater effectively is critical to the long-term sustainability of our operations and the region we call home.Our commitment to good stewardship of groundwater is demonstrated daily by rigorous monitoring, reporting, research and results.
We monitor conditions of the groundwater constantly.
The saturated thickness of the underlying aquifer varies but generally begins on average at approximately 200 feet below ground surface (bgs) and extends to well below 1,000 feet bgs. Multiple test wells have been drilled and well logs prepared, and in some cases videoed providing an excellent verifiable record of these conditions.
We report on water quantity, quality, and levels every year.
Cadiz groundwater use is subject to both local and state reporting requirements. (California Water Code §4999 et. Seq.) In fact, San Bernardino County is one of only four counties in California that reports actual water use in excess of 25 acre-feet per year (AFY) to the State. All groundwater use at Cadiz and in the entire eastern portion of San Bernardino County is also regulated by San Bernardino County under its Desert Groundwater Ordinance, adopted in 2002, more than a decade before California adopted the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act mandating similar regulation in other counties. Our annual reporting to the County includes water quantity, water quality and water levels.
We presently use only a fraction of the water in the watershed, and the water is otherwise lost to high-salinity and then evaporation.
Cadiz’ common law right to use groundwater for agriculture was administratively acknowledged by the County in 1993, then revisited and again authorized under the Desert Groundwater Ordinance via approval of the Groundwater Management, Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) for the Cadiz Water Project in 2012. The GMMMP expressly authorizes the use of groundwater for agriculture and the Water Project, subject to specified conditions. Namely, total water use must not exceed 75,000 AFY and must average no more than 50,000 AFY over 50 years. Cadiz has historically relied upon 2,000 – 6,000 AFY to irrigate crops in production. The agricultural operation has been sustainable for 25 years.
We understand the gravity and the intent of the rules governing water use and we comply vigorously.
A reliable water supply is vital to successful agriculture. Our continued long-term access to water is the cornerstone of all our projects. Against the backdrop of the administrative approvals, the following summarizes important considerations that support the Company’s long-term continued access to water for all of our projects, including farming.
- California Constitution Article X, sec 2 – « that water resources of the State be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent »
By Constitutional Amendment the people of California adopted Article X, sec 2 declaring that “[t]he general welfare requires that the water resources of the State be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable.” This requirement has led to the establishment of innovative groundwater management strategies that are designed to maximize beneficial use and the avoidance of waste wherever possible. (See City of Los Angeles v. City of San Fernando(1975) 14 Cal.3d 199.). For example, the GMMMP which authorizes the annual conservation of billions of gallons of groundwater that would otherwise evaporate into the atmosphere was judicially validated at trial and again on appeal. (Del. Tech Inc. v. County of San Bernardino(2016) Cal. Unpub G050881 Lexis 3439 at 26.)
- Overlying Rights in California — each overlying landowner holds the right to withdraw groundwater from beneath their overlying land for beneficial use on the land.
Water rights are an interest in real propertyand protected under the State and Federal Constitutions. (United States v. Gerlach Live Stock(1950) 339 U.S. 725.) In fact, farming is declared to be one of the state’s highest and best uses of water. (Water Code §106.). Each overlying owner shares a correlative right with other overlying landowners to use the available water supply under reasonable means. (City of Barstow v. Mojave Water Agency(2000) 23 Cal.4th1224, 1243, [99 Cal.Rptr.2d 294].) Under common law, our agricultural groundwater use is not limited by a specific amount, but we are permitted to use the water to irrigate crops in production at our properties relying on groundwater so long as the cumulative use of groundwater by all overlying landowners does not cause “undesirable results.”
- Competing Uses — The land surrounding Cadiz is almost all federally owned and protected. As a result, the upper watershed is free from industry, population centers and sources of pollution.
Other than strip mines that lie over the hypersaline Bristol and Cadiz Dry Lakes about 8 miles southwest of Cadiz, there are no consumptive uses that use or produce groundwater in the Fenner Valley watershed. In total, the strip mines account for about 750 AFY of groundwater use from that portion of the Basin that is hypersaline.
- Very Low Priority Basin under SGMA — DWR designation provides further corroboration that groundwater pumped for overlying agriculture use pursuant to ongoing groundwater management protocols has been sustainable.
In December 2018, the California Department of Water Resources carried out its responsibilities under SGMA to evaluate each basin in California and determine its priority for additional state regulation. During this process, DWR categorized the Cadiz/Fenner Valley groundwater basins as “very low priority,” not requiring additional state oversight and the preparation of a new groundwater management plan under SGMA.The County’s approved groundwater management plan is undertaken pursuant to the County’s police power consistent with the State’s delegation of administrative authority over groundwater to counties and local agencies (Water Code §113).
- Protection of the Environment – The FEIR for the Cadiz Water Project as well as the GMMMP approved by the County in 2012 found there was no connection between alluvial groundwater use at Cadiz and mountain surface springs located 11 miles away and 1,400 feet higher in elevation.
As noted above, the groundwater table beneath Cadiz exists at 200 feet bgs, a level many times lower than the deepest roots of any desert vegetation.No flora or fauna of any kind rely upon groundwater at Cadiz for their sustenance.Springs in the upper elevations of the watershed, over 11 miles away and 1,400 feet change in elevation, are disconnected from the aquifer system at the Valley floor.
The FEIR also concluded that even if there were an interconnection, the impact would not be significant and could be mitigated via the GMMMP. This was also the opinion of an independent group of groundwater professionalscommissioned in early 2019 to evaluate claims that groundwater pumping at Cadiz might impact mountain springs, following the release of new opposition-funded studies that allege a connection between the springs and the alluvial aquifer based on limited water chemistry data. An Addendum to the FEIRadopted by the Fenner Valley Water Authority in June 2019 again evaluated whether intervening studies sponsored by project opponents generated new information constituting a change of circumstances since Project approval. The Addendum concluded that the opponents’ studies did not present new information and reconfirmed the earlier FEIR and County findings about the project’s sustainability and ability to protect springs:
“In January 2019, Dr. David Kreamer prepared an external peer review and evaluation of a second Zdon report, Use of Radiocarbon Ages to Narrow Groundwater Recharge Estimates in the Southeastern Mojave Desert (Love and Zdon 2018; hereafter referred to as the Love and Zdon report). The Love and Zdon report attempt to critically review and constrain estimates of groundwater recharge in the Southeastern Mojave Desert by use of radiocarbon dating. The conclusions reached in this paper rely on previous published work in non-journal publications, and one round of radiochemical measurements made at five (5) selected springs. Dr. Kreamer concluded that while the Love and Zdon report adds data to study of springs in the Mojave Desert, the conclusions were seriously flawed, contain both citations and self-citations from non-referenced work, do not adequately describe limitations or uncertainties in their work, fail in some cases to consider the possibility of local spring recharge beyond surface catchments, use different areas and basins for their comparison of annual recharge volumes, and neglect the incorporation of standard methodologies to collect and interpret their data. In sum, Dr. Kreamer suggested that the Love and Zdon report was found to suffer from critical weaknesses which undercut and invalidate some of its conclusions, and contains serious methodological omissions in interpretation of recharge and average groundwater residence time, which ultimately influence the interpretation for the hydrogeology of the study area.
“In February 2019, a peer review was conducted for the 2012 EIR conclusions and effectiveness of the GMMMP (Appendix A). The report, by Three Valley Municipal Water District, addressed concerns presented in the Zdon report. The peer review study concluded that the evidence presented in 2012 EIR accurately reflected the best available science, and that the GMMMP provided substantial mitigation values. The study recommended additional monitoring to augment the data collection, but was clear to conclude that the new recommendations did not present new informationor contradict the conclusions of the 2012 EIR. In summary, the Zdon report and the Love and Zdon report prepared since the certification of the 2012 EIR do not contain any new information that changes the conclusions of the analysis in the 2012 EIR with respect to potential adverse effects on natural springs.The referenced reports are provided in Appendix D of this Addendum.”
Maintaining sound scientific understanding is a Cadiz core value, and, for the avoidance of doubt, the study of natural springs in the watershed will always continue.
The Public Trust doctrine, which protects state public resources found in navigable water ways, tidelands and waterfronts, does not apply to percolating groundwater as is found in the Fenner Valley, a closed basin watershed. Importantly, however, the withdrawal of groundwater at Cadiz has no impact whatsoever on public trust resources or flora and fauna , of any kind. This is because there are no flora and fauna that rely upon groundwater at 200 feet bgs for sustenance. Whatever moisture they obtain is derived from rainfall and the land surface.
The Cadiz Water Project FEIR and the GMMMP also thoroughly considered the potential interconnection between groundwater withdrawals from the alluvial aquifer at Cadiz and distant mountain springs, the nearest of which – Bonanza Spring – is 11 miles away and 1400 feet apart in elevation. The science demonstrated that there is no hydraulic continuity. Nevertheless, the FEIR and GMMMP also included mitigation measures that would fully reduce any impacts to insignificance in the improbable event they occurred.
The Addendum to the FEIR referenced above, returned to the subject of the interconnection in response to claims of “new evidence” by project opponents. However, the reported “evidence” of an interconnection was completely discredited. Nevertheless, in an effort to bring finality to the subject, the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, will lead a multi-disciplinary focused study of the Bonanza Spring and its hydrologic relationship to the surrounding watershed. (see https://bit.ly/2kfgAA6). We expect that the open character and broad governmental participation in this evaluation will be helpful in using the scientific method to resolve the question of the spring’s potential interconnection and ensuring that mitigation is available to address any problem, however unlikely it may be.
We are committed to responsible stewardship of our land and water resources and supporting scientific understanding to ensure sustainability.
In conclusion, percolating groundwater from the large aquifer that underlies the Cadiz properties is uniquely protected from industrial pollution and competition from any other consumptive uses.
The available groundwater supply can be withdrawn for beneficial use under efficient means before it becomes hyper-saline and evaporates.
With a long-term clean, reliable supply, the cultivated land can substantially contribute to the availability of sustainable and organic crops farmed concurrently with the operation of the Water Project and the planned conservation of billions of gallons of water that would otherwise waste into the atmosphere.
Cadiz Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project, Final Environmental Impact Report, 2012, p. 33.
https://gis.water.ca.gov/app/bp-dashboard/p2/. California’s 515 groundwater basins are classified into one of four categories; high-, medium-, low-, or very low-priority based on components identified in the California Water Code Section 10933(b). Basin priority determines which provisions of SGMA, and the 2009 CASEGEM system, apply in a basin. https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/Basin-Prioritization
Ibid, p. 60-61.
Addendum to Cadiz Water Conservation, Recovery & Storage Project Final Environmental Impact Report, 2019, p. 30.
Santa Teresa Citizens Action Grp. v. City of San Jose(2001) 114 Cal.App. 4th689.
  The law does not allow speculation as a substitute for proof of actual harm. Hernandez v. Amcord Inc. (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th659, 669
We expect these studies will be material in any subsequent review of a proposed transfer of Cadiz water through the Colorado River Aqueduct in accordance with newly adopted SB 307.