23 Mar This Year, California’s Drought Outlook Deserves Our Full Attention
By Scott Slater, CEO, Cadiz Inc.
Today, most Californians find themselves staring down another drought declaration and will likely do so again several times before mid-century. This uncertain situation is exacerbated by the reality that more than 1 million Californians are without reliable access to clean, affordable water. Climate change is telling us limits on traditional supplies can and will continue and we must be innovative in our work to move water between communities that need it and to ensure it can happen safely and successfully in any hydrological year.
Cadiz land position, water resources and infrastructure are unique, and Cadiz is the only private sector company in California that that has considerable opportunity, capability and commitment to materially address the water needs of our communities, homes, families and businesses with new supply, storage and conveyance – on demand – for the next 50 years.
From the start, Cadiz saw an extraordinary opportunity to improve the conditions and quality of the life of Californians. Mark Twain famously said, “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over,” and while the fighting ensued in California, Cadiz sensed that with innovation and creativity, there could be solutions in place of conflict. We sought to demonstrate that private and public interests can converge, and we have done so. Our team has brought forward exceptional innovation to replace a vexing and rancorous policy debate with visionary answers. The resolutions we present today are even more important given the environment that the years and weather have left us no choice. Epitomized by 2021.
When the year 2020 came to an end, the State Water Project announced a 10 percent initial allocation for its contractors. In February, its federal counterpart, the Central Valley Project, announced that allocations for south of Delta water users would be even worse, at five percent. These are crippling shortages that cannot be simply overcome, as in decades past, by full reliance on groundwater as primary cover for lack of surface water. Groundwater supplies rapidly became depleted, sopped up for use when other sources left the system. Hence, it did not take long before groundwater transformed into the obvious soft underbelly of our water infrastructure, and carte blanche access to local groundwater was revoked in January 2020 under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Now groundwater basins must adhere to some reasonable notion of balancing supply and demand to avoid further harm to the resource.
Who among us has not heard the repeated call not to “waste water?” Water conservation is woven into the ethic of Californians, especially in newer generations. And here in California, it’s the law because the voters adopted a constitutional amendment requiring the efficient capture, distribution and use of water. That effort has proven wildly successful by reducing consumption by hundreds of thousands of acre feet. But water conservation is not, by itself solving the supply problem. The looming issues that threaten communities and individuals also threaten agriculture, because without reliable water, farming in California as we know it will be sacrificed.
But drought-induced conservation, or mandatory rationing, is not a long-term solution either. It does not end long-term supply shortages, and it’s focus on sharing pain of drought hurts the most vulnerable of our citizens. When water sales are reduced through rationing, these fixed costs are spread over lower volumes and rates spike. Consumers pay more for less water – the least common-sense answer to this problem – impacting those on fixed incomes. Such shortages and corresponding rate spikes can often be prevented by meaningful investments in supply, storage and conveyance instead of relying on cutbacks and hoping for the next wet year. The time to do so is now.
- Colorado River supplies are in doubt. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, from which California receives her California River entitlement have been projected to reach their lowest levels since they were filled decades ago.
- The US Bureau of Reclamation reports that “open-water evaporation Is a significant loss of water from Lake Mead. From 1953-1994, evaporation from Lake Mead was estimated to be 6.4 ft/year or about 791,000 acre-feet/year (based on average surface area of 125,600 acres.)”
- The Delta Conveyance Project offers a necessary long-term solution to the systemic challenges of delivering water north to south. But it remains caught up in state and federal environmental clearances with a huge price tag of $15.9 billion, which must be partially funded before water is delivered. Without it, the State Water Project supplies will be forever limited.
- The California Water Commission began its own process last December to evaluate the subject of water conveyance in California more broadly in and the opportunity for public funding and support. But such an effort Is still pending.
So, returning to my message at the beginning of this statement, Cadiz is the only private company in California that has considerable assets to share in helping to address the State’s needs of new supply, storage and conveyance with cost-effective solutions. Surrounded by federal land, our aquifer system is fully protected against development, contamination or competing groundwater use. The Company has permits to safely and add 50,000 acre-feet per year for 50 years into California’s water supply system. Up to 1M acre-feet of imported water can be stored, for a period of up to 10 years, without evaporative losses.
We have not been idle, implementing the Project over the past two years, increasing our groundwater monitoring, and constructing wells to meet the needs of farming on our overlying land as well as off-property municipal and industrial uses. Three new wells alone can reliably pump and deliver up to 10,000 acre-feet per year.
Cadiz is also prepared to dramatically improve the state’s water conveyance network through its acquisition of a 220-mile pipeline from El Paso Natural Gas (“EPNG”). The pipeline lies within an extensive right-of-way corridor that runs over federal land and, we were pleased to see EPNG’s Right of Way (ROW) was renewed in 2020 along with an assignment of EPNG’s ROW to Cadiz. This and another new ROW that expressly authorized the conveyance of water have presented an opportunity to interconnect California’s main water infrastructure for the first time.
This pipeline crosses the State Water Project in two locations, the Los Angeles Aqueduct while traversing large portions of San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Kern Counties. We look forward to using this pipeline to work with public agencies and willing transferors to move water and assist others in providing aid to rural communities that presently lack access to clean reliable water as permitted under state and federal laws. But at least the bottleneck in conveyance would no longer be a barrier for this route and a great public service.
‘Wait till next year’ is the refrain of teams that lose the World Series or the Super Bowl. But those contests do not have the same consequences for hundreds of thousands of families, or businesses or communities seeking to survive. Cadiz has strived for solutions that can be put into a complex system that can make our State a better place in which to live and not be relying on the most unreliable thing that time bestows on us: the weather.
No Californian should be without access to water, especially when solutions stand ready to deliver. We are hopeful about the opportunities to make meaningful change and seek to inspire the private sector to mobilize along with us for the public good.