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Washington Post Puts National Spotlight on Cadiz Water Project

You may have seen the recent Washington Post article A Massive Aquifer Lies Beneath the Mojave Desert. Could It Help Solve California’s Water Problem? which covers the Cadiz Water Project as a new supply option for Southern California that can, indeed, play a part in solving our state’s difficult water supply problems.

There were many positive take-aways from the story, which included comments from  Cadiz’s Scott Slater and SMWD’s Dan Ferons. For example, the story recognized that:

  • “The aquifer is roughly the size of Rhode Island” and therefore “There is water here in the Mojave Desert. A lot of it.” (An estimated 20 to 30 million acre feet, to be exact – equal to Lake Mead when it’s full.)
  • The Cadiz project is capable of providing clean drinking water to 100,000 households across Southern California.
  • The assessment of the aquifer’s recharge rate, the Project’s EIR and the environmental review process have withstood court challenges.
  • The project will be built on private agricultural land, not public land.

The article also quotes California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first State of the State speech: “Our water supply is becoming less reliable … and our population is growing. That means a lot of demand on an unpredictable supply” so the state’s approach to water supply “can’t be either/or. It must be yes/and.” It’s an accurate statement of the state’s water outlook and an important reminder of the need to invest in a wide range of water supply projects.

However, the story did give considerable coverage and space to project opponents and did little to acknowledge the extent of scientific analyses that went into the project’s design. It also left out many important facts about the project and ignored the voice of the people and communities impacted the most by lack of reliable water supplies. For example:

  • A 10,000+ page certified Environmental Impact Report found the project will have no significant impact on the aquifer or desert resources.
  • A groundwater management plan will govern project operations and be enforced by San Bernardino County. The plan was built on the recommendations of an independent panel of scientists and independently reviewed by the County.
  • Multiple independently peer-reviewed scientific studies have confirmed the conclusions of the CEQA review. In fact, one of the studies identified for the first time a fault line that separates the aquifer at Cadiz from the nearest natural spring.
  • The aquifer cannot be drawn down by more than 80 feet at the wellfield, where the aquifer extends more than 1,000 feet below ground surface.

Time and again, opponents have claimed that the Project threatens to “drain the aquifer” – but as these important facts highlight, hydrology, geology, physics and regulatory oversight make that impossible.

In the article, the Project opponents’ hypocrisy was on particular display when Jessica Dacey of the Mojave Desert Land Trust denigrated the scientific research that supports the Cadiz Water Project’s CEQA approval as “the best research you can buy” while at the same time citing research the organization itself “bought” to refute the project’s conclusions and undermine its local approvals. Despite Cadiz’s requests, the Post elected not to disclose that the Land Trust paid for its recent research.

Senator Feinstein also chimed in through a letter to the editor, revealing her continuing willingness to misinform the public about the Project. She wrote, “Cadiz still hasn’t explained how it would remove harmful chemicals, including cancer-causing chromium-6, from its water before it reaches the Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to 19 million Californians.” We have stated repeatedly that no water will leave Cadiz that won’t meet state and federal water quality standards, and, in fact, just publicly revealed the results of pilot studies that prove that the technology we propose to use will remove the trace amounts of chromium-6 from the aquifer’s water down to “non-detect” levels.

Besides, the Senator should know that state and federal law would forbid the sort of contamination she is drumming up fear over.

California’s environmental review process is rigorous – even arduous. That means CEQA-approved projects like Cadiz must, and do, have a firm scientific and legal foundation in order to be proceed.  It’s a shame readers of the article didn’t gain a better perspective on this, just as it’s a shame that the story didn’t include your voices – the voices of community groups, water agencies, government agencies, labor unions and citizens throughout California who support more diversified water portfolios to address the effects of climate change and population growth on our water supplies.

Collectively, let’s all keep trying to tell that story … so we don’t have to relate more stories about what happens when we fail to make necessary investments in water infrastructure.

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