By Steve Brown
The Cadiz desert water mining project is pointing a finger at alleged misrepresentations by a "shadowy operative," and stating the project will not harm, nor irreperably harm the desert environment. We, and many others, disagree.
But the National Parks Conservation Association is hardly a shadowy operative, and it has been joined by a broad range of organizations concerned about the environmental implications of the project. Indeed, the Center for Biological Diversity, the NPCA, the California Wilderness Coalition, the San Bernardino Valley Audobon Society, the Sierra Club Desert Committee, the Mojave Desert Land Trust, the Sierra Club (national), the Morongo Basin Conservation Association, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council, the Sierra Club San Gorgonio Chapter, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, the Desal Response Group, and Desert Survivors joined together to file a 78 page comment on the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project Draft Environmental Impact Report.
"The DEIR for the Proposed Project falls woefully short of meeting the core requirementsof CEQA. We also have serious concerns about the Proposed Project’s potential to degradefederally protected National Park Service (“NPS”) and BLM lands, and the region’s fragile desert ecosystem. Unfortunately, these concerns remain largely invisible in the DEIR," the comments from these organizations begin in a recent document.
That hardly fits with the Cadiz statement, "Leading scientists have reviewed the results, which show the project will not harm, let alone 'irreparably harm,' the environment, as the shadowy operative behind the hit pieces claims."
The organizations claim in their comments that even the Santa Margarita Water District is not the proper lead agency for the proposed project under CEQA regulations.
"SMWD does not have the requisite regional perspective and broad expertise to weigh the interests of the Proposed Project proponents, including SMWD itself,against the interests of the diverse stakeholders potentially adversely affected by the Project,particularly San Bernardino County, where most of the direct impacts are located. That SMWD will also be a beneficiary of Project water further undermines its status as an objective judge of the DEIR’s adequacy."
The organizations found that the DEIR's project objective is flawed and the description deprives the public and decision makers of the "informed participation and decision making required by CEQA."
"The Proposed Project’s fundamental premise—that mining water at rates three to ten times the estimated aquifer recharge rate is sustainable, and in fact amounts to water “conservation”—is upside down, misleading, and wholly unsupported by data and analysis included in the DEIR. By its own design, the Proposed Project will pump an average of 50,000 acre-feet per year ('AFY') (approximately 16.25 billion gallons per year) for 50 years. Even describing the project as exporting an average of 50,000 AFY appears to be arbitrary, as there is no firm limit, by statute, regulation, or bindingagreement, on what the project could export. The result would leave the aquifer with a deficit of between 1.1 and 2.1 million acre-feet of water. Labeling this massive withdrawal and export of groundwater as 'conservation' is without basis in law or policy and stretches the limits of credulity.
"Beyond the errors of omission and inconsistency explained below, the DEIR misrepresents the true nature of the Proposed Project. The actual project goal—aggressively mining water from a desert aquifer—is hidden behind green buzzwords like sustainability,conservation, and beneficial use. The Proposed Project exchanges a constitutionally-protected public good for private gain. Until the project objective matches the true project purpose, the DEIR will remain fundamentally flawed under CEQA."
The organizations' comprehensive comments that do not support the assertions Cadiz makes to support its water mining project, can be read in their entirety here:
Of extreme concern are potential impacts to desert wildlife including the desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, desert kit fox, badger, burrowing owl, and golden eagle.
"Of further and perhaps greater concern is that the DEIR fails to evaluate the impact of the proposed project on the hydrology of the crucial seeps/spring/water sources in the adjacent mountains that are the lifeline to survival of the desert bighorn sheep especially during the hot summer months. The proposed monitoring of ground water is wholly inadequate to evaluate the impact of the proposed project on these irreplaceable resources for desert bighorn sheep andother wildlife that rely on them. In fact, in the absence of any pre-project investigation and data,by the time any effects of pumping are seen, it will be too late to prevent the dewatering. The proposed activities could affect natural water sources in numerous mountain ranges including the Marble, South Bristol, and Old Woman Mountains, yet this analysis is inadequately analyzed inthe DEIR. In fact as the DEIR acknowledges 'There is no information demonstrating a physical connection of those identified springs in the local mountains to groundwater in the alluvial aquifer where Cadiz’s pumping will take place.' (DEIR at Appendix H3 at pg 1 or 2697 of pdf).This lack of information is then wrongly used to conclude that 'because there is little or no hydraulic connection the Project will not likely have any impact on springs' (ibid), when in fact no information is available."
In other words, the seeps and springs of the Mojave around Cadiz could dry up and by the time any monitoring picked up on the fact, any wildlife dependent on those seeps and springs could be dead.
The Sun Runner opposes the Cadiz water mining project on the grounds that there is inadequate environmental data that supports the assertion that wildlife will not be impacted. As the comments of this coalition of organizations suggests, there are potentially devastating consequences that could occur, and the truth of the matter is that the agencies proposing the water mining really have no solid idea what the consequences will be, and in the event that surface water acess is drawn down and dried up, the impacts on wildlife will be disasterous - and likely too late to mitigate.
Others oppose the Cadiz water mining project. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for one. The Needles City Council refused to endorse the project back in March, and San Bernardino County Supervisor Neil Derry also refused to support the project.
Human desert residents have very little to gain, and much to possibly lose, from this project. The water and money go elsewhere. The Cadiz smoke and mirrors approach of "conserving" water before it evaporates, is worthy of scams perpetrated historically on others.
Owens Lake comes to mind...