The Cadiz Water Project: Important Questions Answered
The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project will conserve billions of gallons of water lost annually to high-salinity and evaporation in the eastern Mojave Desert and create a new, reliable water supply and groundwater storage for Southern California.
The Project has been under development since 2009 and has achieved numerous permitting milestones, including successfully completing the state’s rigorous California Environmental Quality Act review process. On this page, find out what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the Cadiz Water Project.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Q. What is the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project?
A: The Cadiz Water Project is an innovative public-private partnership among Southern California water agencies and desert agriculture business Cadiz, Inc. that will create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year by reducing an ongoing loss of groundwater to evaporation in California’s Mojave Desert. The Project proposes to sustainably manage groundwater underlying Cadiz’s private agricultural property in the Mojave Desert where fresh water presently migrates to saline dry lake playas and evaporates. The Project will conserve billions of gallons of water annually so that it can be used to offset long-term supply-demand balances in Southern California. The Project will also provide an opportunity to store up to a million acre-feet of imported water within the aquifer.
The project has successfully completed a robust review by state and local public agencies in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the most aggressive environmental protection law in the nation, and will be governed by a Court-approved groundwater management plan overseen locally by San Bernardino County. The Project offers tremendous benefits to the Southern California region including creating 5,900 new jobs. The Project is presently completing final arrangements to deliver water to customers within the existing Southern California water transportation system so it can offer supplemental water supplies to any local community in need.
Q. Where is the proposed Project located?
A: The Cadiz Water Project is located in the Mojave Desert at Cadiz, California, approximately 80 miles east of Barstow, California. The Project is located entirely on private property owned by Cadiz, Inc. and a conveyance pipeline is planned for the Arizona & California Railroad (ARZC) right-of-way to connect the Project wellfield to the Colorado River Aqueduct near Rice, California.
Q. Why is the water needed?
A: California has and will continue to suffer from years of drought conditions, and Southern California in particular faces a long-term water crisis due to infrastructure deficiencies and regulatory restrictions on its water supplies imported from northern California and the Colorado River. Some communities in Southern California have no access to locally sourced supplies and rely 100% on imports. Despite ongoing and planned water conservation projects, existing water supplies are insufficient to meet the long-term needs of the region. Thus, local water providers are working to identify new, reliable, high-quality water supplies to ensure they can continue to meet their customers’ needs and keep ratepayers’ costs low – particularly in low-income, densely populated, urban communities that cannot afford to invest in conservation technology or new supplies. By better managing the groundwater basin at Cadiz and sustainably conserving water that is currently being lost, the Cadiz Water Project will create a new water supply that can serve up to 400,000 people a year and new groundwater storage capacity that can help ensure water reliability during times of drought.
Q. Who is participating in the Project?
A: Multiple water providers that serve millions of Southern California water users have signed letters of intent, option agreements or purchase agreements with Cadiz Inc. to reserve water supplies from the Project. In addition, Cadiz has reserved 20 percent of Project supplies for use by any San Bernardino County-based water agency, and the County also has authority over the project under its approved groundwater management plan. The Arizona & California Railroad Company, which owns the right-of-way where the conveyance pipeline is proposed to be constructed, will also receive water and other benefits from the Project to serve critical railroad purposes.
Q. What are the benefits of the Project?
A: According to a study published by Inland Empire economist Dr. John Husing, the Project will create and support over 5,900 jobs and generate more than $878 million in economic activity in the Inland Empire over its two construction phases, and infuse millions of dollars in tax revenue to local governments over the long term, including approximately $5.4 million per year for San Bernardino County budgets and $613,000 per year for the Needles Unified School District.
Moreover, the Project will also improve local water supply reliability and reduce the demand for imported water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River, both of which continue to be limited by regulatory restrictions even in wet years. Cadiz is closer to Southern California population centers than the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or the Colorado River, so considerably less energy will be needed to move Project water. This will help manage Southern California’s energy demands, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and stabilize rates for water users. In addition, the Project will create new groundwater storage opportunities and improve water quality by lowering the salt content in the Colorado River Aqueduct. Southern California economics firm Stratecon estimates that the availability of the Project’s water supplies in the region could result in $6.1 billion in savings and avoided costs for ratepayers over a 50-year period.
ABOUT THE WATER RESOURCE
Q. Where does the water come from?
A: The Project is located at the confluence of the Fenner Valley and Orange Blossom Wash watersheds in California’s Mojave Desert. Every year, precipitation falls on the mountains at the higher elevations of the watersheds as rain and snow. Much of this water gradually percolates underground and is stored deep beneath the surface in the aquifer system. The highly porous underlying rock layers provide ideal conditions for storage of this pure water; research has found that more than 20 million acre-feet of water is currently stored in the alluvium beneath the Project area, as much as is stored in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir. Even more water is believed to be stored further underground in carbonate rock layers.
The groundwater naturally flows downhill through the aquifer system over hundreds of years and ultimately reaches the dry lakes at the base of the watershed, where it becomes highly saline and evaporates through the surface. To minimize the loss of this clean groundwater to salinity and evaporation, Project wells will intercept the groundwater and capture it before it reaches the highly-saline brine. Once implemented, the Project would conserve and recover billions of gallons of water every year for beneficial use throughout Southern California. Importantly, this aquifer is not fed by water that comes from nearby Springs, which have been shown to be hydraulically disconnected from the Project area.
Q. Is the water supply renewable?
A: Detailed scientific analysis of the Project’s watersheds over many years has confirmed that the groundwater in the system is naturally renewable and recharged by rain and snowpack that occurs in the upper elevations of the mountains in the watershed. Based on a model developed by the S. Geological Survey (USGS), the long-term average recharge rate is estimated to be 32,000 acre-feet per year.
Q. How much water can be delivered to participants?
A: Over the 50-year term of the Project, an average of approximately 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year will be delivered to Southern California communities. This is enough water to serve about 400,000 people per year and less water than Cadiz would use to farm its properties instead.
Q. What is the quality of the groundwater that would be withdrawn from the aquifer?
A: Cadiz water meets all state and federal drinking water standards without treatment. The Project has further committed to meet any and all supplemental standards established by partner water agencies. The quality of Cadiz’s water has been thoroughly reviewed and assessed as part of the CEQA review process and is continually monitored by San Bernardino County as part of our ongoing agricultural operations.
ABOUT PROJECT DEVELOPMENT
Q: Can the Project operate sustainably, without harm to the desert?
A: From the start, the Cadiz Water Project has been committed to environmental safety and sustainability. To ensure the aquifer and desert environment are always protected, there have been extensive studies of the hydrology and geology of the Cadiz Valley, Project operations have been modeled and intentionally limited, and the Project’s Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan have been reviewed and approved by San Bernardino County and the California Courts. This groundwater management plan in particular gives San Bernardino County the authority to continually monitor groundwater levels at the Project site and halt operations if levels fall more than anticipated or if any other negative impacts are detected. Independent experts, public agency decisions and 12 California court opinions have reviewed the science and the CEQA documents that supported and validated the Project’s approval and concluded that the Cadiz Water Project will not harm the Mojave Desert or the surrounding ecosystem. Continuing study of the area has confirmed the Project’s operations will not adversely impact critical desert resources.
Q. What type of facilities will be constructed?
A: Project facilities would be constructed in two phases:
Phase 1 – Conservation and Recovery.
To ensure minimal disturbance of the desert landscape and habitats, Project operations will be concentrated on Cadiz’s existing agricultural land and other private lands. A wellfield will be constructed on Cadiz Inc. property to actively manage the aquifer system and minimize loss of groundwater to evaporation. Significant parts of the wellfield and its supporting infrastructure will be built soon to support expanding agricultural operations, then will be transferred to the water Project upon completion of Project construction.
A 43-mile underground steel pipeline will also be constructed and buried within a privately owned and previously disturbed active railroad right-of-way between Cadiz and Rice, California. The pipeline will connect the wellfield to the Colorado River Aqueduct allowing for delivery throughout Southern California.
Phase 2 – Imported Storage.
The Project will add capacity to the Phase 1 wellfield and pipeline to provide 1 million acre-feet of groundwater storage space in the aquifer system for water imported to the Project area. Recharge basins will also be constructed on Cadiz Inc. property to percolate imported water into the aquifer system. The Metropolitan Water District and Cadiz built test recharge basins at the site several years ago and found percolation rates to be exceptionally good. The imported water will be held and maintained in storage in the aquifer system underground using the wellfield.
Q: Does Cadiz Inc. have rights to groundwater in the Cadiz Valley?
A: Yes. State and federal laws define water as a public resource, but private entities can possess ownership rights to groundwater or surface water at their property. As the owner of 50 square miles of property overlying the Cadiz/Fenner groundwater basin, Cadiz Inc. owns the rights to utilize the underlying groundwater too.
For example, under California law, water that falls in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is used to irrigate private fields in the Central Valley, and farmers with water rights to this supply can sell their resources to urban water agencies in transfers. It does not change the water right if the water originally first fell to public land or private land.
Cadiz Inc. is the largest private landowner in California’s eastern Mojave Desert and has held its properties in the area for over 30 years. Since the 1980s, the Company has maintained various levels of agriculture relying on groundwater for irrigation. Cadiz can therefore choose how to realize its water rights and presently irrigates properties utilizing underlying groundwater. Under the permits received for the Cadiz Water Project, Cadiz Inc. would instead conserve 50,000 AFY for municipal use rather than agricultural use. This water is only a very small percentage (.3%) of the total water in the groundwater system and equivalent to the water Cadiz is already permitted to use for irrigation.
Q: Is there support for the Cadiz Water Project?
A: Support for the Project and its water supply and economic benefits stretches far and wide across government, business, academic, agriculture and labor sectors. Many local California residents and individuals concerned about California’s water challenges have also voiced their support. A list of the current project supporters is available at this link: https://missionaguacadiz.com/projectsupport/
ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Q. Will the Project harm the environment or “drain the desert”?
A: No. Not only will the desert always contain groundwater in storage, but under the Court-approved groundwater management plan, San Bernardino County can halt Project operations if groundwater levels fall below a certain level or if any other harm is anticipated.
The watershed that brings groundwater to the Cadiz Project area is 1,300 square miles, or about three times the size of Los Angeles. It contains between 17 and 34 million acre-feet of water – as much as 11 trillion gallons – already in storage underground, which is more water than the largest surface reservoir in America.
The aquifer is presently draining under natural conditions, with billions of gallons of clean groundwater flowing to dry lake playas, or salt sinks, then becoming ten times saltier than the ocean and evaporating. The Project will better manage this groundwater basin, reduce evaporative loss and make water available for families. In total, the Project will conserve less than one-half of one percent of the total groundwater in storage in the basin each year – an amount on par with what Cadiz is already permitted for under existing farming operations.
Q. Will the Project impact regional springs and wildlife?
A: As confirmed by a recent peer-reviewed study, the Cadiz Water Project poses no threat to the springs within the Mojave National Preserve. There are two convergent fault zones that intersect at Bonanza Spring – the closest natural spring, which is located more than 11 miles away and more than 1,000 feet above the aquifer – and are blocking, or “damming,” upstream groundwater flowing in fractured bedrock above the spring. These bounding faults exhibit evidence of being groundwater barriers, meaning Bonanza Spring is fed from above and is independent of, and not influenced by, conditions in the alluvial aquifer at the Cadiz area miles below. Moreover, the springs in the watershed are fed by precipitation – not groundwater – and are separated from the Project by unsaturated soil, meaning the Project is hydraulically disconnected from the Spring.
Furthermore, the Project will not impact plants or wildlife found in the desert. As confirmed by the project’s environmental impact report, groundwater at Cadiz is generally more than 100 feet below the surface, which is too deep for plants or animals to access. In other areas where groundwater may be closer to the surface, the groundwater is far too salty to support life. Instead, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), desert plants and wildlife, like the desert tortoise, depend on water from precipitation.
Q. Will the Project reduce water levels in other private wells?
A: Most of the area’s private wells are located at higher points in elevation and draw water before it reaches the alluvial aquifer system at the Project area. As a result, other private wells are not expected to be affected by the Project. To further ensure that the Project does not impact private wells, any well owner can be included in the Project’s groundwater monitoring plan, which will quickly identify any unexpected impacts to well levels and allow for mitigation of those impacts.
Q. Will Project operations increase dust in the area?
A: Extensive study of the chemical composition of the Bristol and Cadiz Dry Lakes confirms that they are fed by groundwater only and are comprised of calcium chloride, which is known to bind rather than disperse. This means that, unlike surface water fed dry lakes playas such as Owens Lake, the crusts of the Bristol and Cadiz Dry Lakes are not susceptible to increased dust emissions. Moreover, extensive scientific study has found that Project operations will not harm air quality in the area and, under the San Bernardino County groundwater management plan and as a condition of the Project’s CEQA approvals, Cadiz will deploy air nephelometers throughout the Project area to ensure air quality remains safe in the Cadiz Valley.
ABOUT PERMITTING & APPROVALS
Q. Has the Project been subject to California’s regulatory processes, including public commentary?
A: The Cadiz Water Project has gone through a thorough, transparent environmental review and approval in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the most stringent environmental review law in the nation. Numerous state, local and federal agencies participated in the CEQA review starting in 2011, and multiple public hearings were held as part of this process. The Project’s CEQA approval was further upheld by the California Superior Court and the Court of Appeal. No federal environmental review is needed because the Project would not be built on federal lands.
Q. Has the Project been subject to a federal Permitting process?
A: Because the Project will be constructed on private land or within existing rights-of-way, corridors, including one owned and operated by the Arizona & California Railroad (ARZC), no federal permitting has been required for the Project. The Project’s proposal to co-locate water infrastructure in an existing railroad right-of-way was evaluated by the Bureau of Land Management and found to be within the scope of the ARZC’s existing permit. Such co-location is consistent with 100 years of federal practice and does not avoid state environmental review of the project itself, but it does avoid environmental impacts to open federal lands. Federal government agencies were invited to participate in and comment on the state environmental review process, and those with jurisdiction did provide comment.
Q. Did the new Mojave Trails National Monument impact the Cadiz Water Project?
A: No.The Cadiz Water Project and Cadiz Inc.’s private property are not in the new Monument. According to the Monument designation, the Monument does not impact private property or valid existing rights. Cadiz is a neighbor to multiple federal lands designations and Project operations will not conflict with any land protections. Extensive study of the Cadiz Water Project confirms that it will not harm resources of the desert, including the Monument, in any way. Project operations are limited by a stringent San Bernardino County-enforced groundwater management plan, which has already been approved and upheld by California’s Courts. .
Q. What is the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California’s role in the Project?
A: In order for conserved water supplies from Cadiz to reach water retail agencies in Southern California, it must be moved in conveyance facilities owned and operated by MWD. Under California law and MWD’s Administrative Code, MWD must move water for third parties so long as they have adequate capacity and receive fair compensation.
MWD’s role in the Cadiz Project is solely focused on the review of the request of Southern California retail agencies to convey Project supplies in MWD facilities on their behalf. The negotiation of these conveyance terms occurs between the engineering staffs of MWD and the retail water agencies participating the Project, not directly between MWD and Cadiz. MWD itself is not a “Project participant” – it is not purchasing water directly from Cadiz or storing its water supplies at Cadiz.
The Project participants and Cadiz have committed that the conveyance of Project supplies will not harm MWD in any way. Cadiz will treat water at the wellhead to legal standards established by MWD for its facilities. The participating agencies will pay MWD’s wheeling rates and request water when space is available. MWD will also have an opportunity to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in economic benefits, such as reduced treatment costs, by moving Cadiz water into the service area.
Today, MWD is establishing terms to convey conserved water for agencies within its service area at their request. As a California Public Agency, MWD must faithfully execute this responsibility at the appropriate time for the benefit of member agencies interested in making Cadiz Project supplies available in Southern California.
Q: Does the Mojave Trails National Monument impact the Cadiz Water Project?
A: No. The Cadiz Water Project will be located solely on private property, which cannot be taken or incorporated into any Monument by the federal government. Moreover, extensive study of the Cadiz Water Project confirms that it will not harm the federal lands, including the Monument, in any way. Project operations are limited by a stringent San Bernardino County-enforced groundwater management plan, which has already been approved and upheld by California’s Courts.
How can I learn more about the Project?
Useful information is posted online about the Project at the following websites:
Cadiz Inc. | http://www.cadizwaterproject.com and missioncadiz.wpengine.com
Santa Margarita Water District | http://www.smwd.com
In addition, questions can be emailed to email@example.com