07 Jan Best Available Data and Science Light Pathway Forward for the Project
Almost a decade ago, Cadiz announced that we were going to pursue the development of a new, safe and sustainable water project that would provide a reliable water supply for 400,000 people across Southern California. We have followed the law, done things openly and transparently, and earned a stack of comprehensive regulatory approvals as we’ve worked toward project implementation. In 2020, our journey continues. We have a new state requirement with which to comply – arising from SB 307 – and will continue to finalize the local approval process.
SB 307 is an Application Process, not an Arbitrary Review by the State
SB 307, which became law on January 1, 2020, will require that the Cadiz Water Project demonstrate to the California State Lands Commission (“SLC”) that it will not cause harm to the environment before we can convey water in a public water conveyance facility. Unbiased professional review has never been a barrier to Water Project implementation and the SB 307 process, executed fairly, should not be an insurmountable barrier either. While project opponents have stated their intention to use the new law to stop the Water Project, SB 307 was not intended to “kill” the Project according to the author and the Legislature, and it doesn’t dismiss or replace CEQA or any other local approvals.
SB 307 requires any party that wishes to convey water from “desert lands” in a public water conveyance facility with excess capacity, such as the Colorado River Aqueduct (“CRA”), to first submit an application to the SLC for a review and finding as to whether the transportation of that water will lead to an adverse environmental impact. A similar requirement already exists in Water Code Section 1810(d), but the finding is made by local agencies rather than the state.
The Final Environmental Impact Report for the Cadiz Water Project previously concluded there were no such impacts. SB 307 now requires the SLC to make a similar finding prior to the Project wheeling water in the CRA.
Importantly, SB 307 does not make us start from scratch. It requires that we submit an application, at a date of our choosing, that contains all relevant information, such as the Final Environmental Impact Report, plus the 25,000-page record compiled in the judicial proceedings, multiple professional reports, 12 court opinions, and 25 years of certified reports pertinent to our groundwater use for farming on our property.
More recent work on mountain springs, including two project opponent-funded reports that had concluded a potential interconnection between the Water Project and mountain springs in the surrounding watershed, will also be part of any application. As would subsequent reviews, including those completed by Dr. David Kreamer from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas finding that the opponents’ reports are flawed and not credible. The Fenner Valley Water Authority, the public Joint Powers Authority that will operate the Water Project, evaluated the claims made in the reports and, in an Addendum to the FEIR, concluded that the reports offered no new credible information. Any application would not be finalized until we have plans to convey water in the CRA.
SoCal Water Agency Taking New Approach with Open Scientific Process
Meanwhile, the project’s opponents have also been pressuring local Southern California water providers that are considering acquiring supplies from the Project (primarily agencies that hold options to water contracts) to drop their support for the project. The tactic is aimed at suppressing demand for the Project in hopes we abandon it altogether before even filing for SB 307 review.
But, when confronted with the arguments raised by opponents, one local water agency – the Three Valleys Municipal Water District (TVMWD) – leaned into the questions rather than walking away. First, in early 2019, the TVMWD Board of Directors commissioned an independent review to evaluate the strength of the already-existing permits and groundwater management plan. That report found existing protections of desert springs sufficient but recommended some additional steps that could be taken to better assure those concerned about the springs. Based on those recommendations, the Board then commissioned a follow-up study, now ongoing, that is focused on gathering data about natural mountain springs, where debate among experts has continued.
To provide finality to allegations over the interconnectedness of the springs to the project area, which is 11 miles away, TVMWD decided to take a science-based approach and answer the question definitively: Is Bonanza Spring connected to the Cadiz aquifer and, if so, can the project still operate without adversely impacting it through existing approved monitoring and mitigation measures or are new measures required?
TVMWD serves approximately 800,000 people in eastern Los Angeles County and is a member of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The TVMWD Board has stated it will not exercise its option to purchase water from Cadiz until there is scientific clarity. In June 2019, it set a course to develop an independent, transparent study that is being conducted in public, allowing all interested stakeholders to comment on the scope, progress and conclusions.
TVMWD invited over 100 stakeholders to participate in a scoping workshop at its offices in October 2019. The four-hour session provided the study’s science team feedback and questions to address as it proceeds with field studies this year.
At TVMWD’s request, Cadiz agreed to reimburse TVMWD for the costs incurred to complete the study, but we are not overseeing the results. To assure public confidence in the outcome, all study progress can be tracked by the public via the study website – www.bonanzaspringstudy.org. Data will be made available online and all parties, the State of California, the United States Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, have been invited to participate.
The data gathered during the study process will be valuable to scientific understanding of the area. It will augment the understanding of local hydrogeology, geology and habitat and its goal is to use that understanding to establish procedure to enhance the Project’s operation and management plan as promised from the beginning.
Continuing Commitment to Water for People, Farming and the Environment
Ongoing scientific study and engagement has been critical to our longevity as a business, and to ensuring our sustainability. We’ve farmed for over 25 years as good custodians of desert resources, guided by a commitment to water conservation, constant monitoring and scientific engagement.
Since we started farming, over 30 years ago, California’s persistent water problem has not abated. Simply put, Californians do not presently have access to enough clean, reliable water to meet their needs over the long-term. While public policy has been implemented to address this challenge, including demand management programs, the state’s water providers are nearly universal in the belief that supply-side solutions must be in the portfolio as well. Excessively delaying or blocking projects is not going to solve California’s persistent water problem. But, working together to improve projects and ensure their sustainability could and it is a principal to which we are committed.
While we progress the science for the Water Project, we will continue to make beneficial use of our land and water through the successful cultivation of lemons and sun-grown, organic hemp. Securing water for people, farming and the environment is compatible, and we will continue to be part of that conversation.