Opponents to Cadiz Water Project head to Court with Last Ditch Appeal

By on March 22, 2016
The Cadiz Water Project

In a last ditch effort to again delay the Cadiz Water Project in California’s Mojave Desert, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Tetra Technology Inc. (Tetra), a Texas-based oil and gas conglomerate, have two appeals to be heard by the 4th District Court this Wednesday (March 23) in Santa Ana, CA.

Following the 2012 independent approvals of the Cadiz Water Project by the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) and the County of San Bernardino, the CBD and Tetra filed challenges to the approvals in Superior Court. In 2014, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler rejected the claims against the project and upheld the public agency approvals.  Tetra and CBD appealed these decisions in 2015.

Six Orange County Superior Court judgements have previously upheld various governmental approvals and environmental reviews of the project, which involves the pumping of 16 million gallons of Mojave Desert land groundwater for up to 50 years. Under a groundwater management program to be enforced by San Bernardino County, the project will conserve groundwater that is presently lost to evaporation and high salinity in the eastern Mojave Desert and deliver that water via the Colorado River Aqueduct to multiple water providers without any significant environmental impacts attributable to project operations.

The Cadiz Water Project is a public-private partnership that has been developed by the company in partnership with SMWD, Orange County’s second largest water supplier. It will deliver a new, reliable annual water supply to some 400,000 people including those within Three Valleys Municipal Water District, Claremont; Jurupa Community Services District; Golden State Water Company, San Dimas; Suburban Water Systems, Covina; California Water Service Company (San Jose and throughout California); Otay Water District; and, Lake Arrowhead Community Services District.

Over 18 months, from 2011 to 2012, the widely supported Cadiz Water Project was reviewed in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SMWD served as lead agency and the County of San Bernardino, which regulates groundwater use at the project area, served as a responsible agency in the CEQA process. SMWD and the County agreed to these roles in a Memorandum of Understanding entered into during the CEQA process.

“In a time of unprecedented drought, and with the herculean efforts that will be required to solve our state’s water challenges, supporting a project that will carefully protect the resource and generate water by curtailing evaporation was the right thing to do as a friend of the Court,” said James Markman, long time water law expert and pro bono amici counsel for the American Groundwater Trust (AGWT) and the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) briefs.

After an extended comment period and extensive public hearings, SMWD certified the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approved the project in July 2012. The County separately affirmed the adequacy of the EIR when it approved the Groundwater Management, Monitoring and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP) for the project under its Desert Groundwater Management Ordinance in October 2012.

“The project was independently peer reviewed, subjected to exhaustive public scrutiny and six law suits.  The fundamental findings that the project provides broad public benefits without causing environmental harm remain unchanged.” said Scott S. Slater, Cadiz CEO and President. “We stand by the thorough independent review of the project and look forward to the prompt resolution of the appeals.”

The Cadiz Water Project would create significant local economic benefits, including the creation of nearly 1,500 direct and indirect jobs per year during construction. It would also diversify the water resources portfolio of many water providers throughout Southern California at a time when water supply reliability is urgently needed.

The following agencies or organizations filed amicus briefs in support of the project’s approval:  American Groundwater Trust (AGWT), Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation (BILD), Building Industry Association of the Bay Area (BIABA), California Building Industry Association (CBIA), California Business Property Association (CBPA), California Chamber of Commerce (Cal Chamber), California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), California State Association of Counties (CSAC), Property & Environment Research Center (PERC),  and the Southern California District Council of Laborers (Laborers).