Mojave Water Grab: Environmental and Economic Flaws Exposed

Members of the California Delegation, Technical Experts, and Environmentalists Raise Concerns

August 7, 2001, Oakland, CA – Environmentalists praised today the findings of two new reports released this week on the proposed Cadiz water project in the Mojave Desert. The economic and scientific reports criticize the project on the grounds that it may threaten the fragile desert ecosystem and cost southern California ratepayers far more than supporters estimate– concerns echoed by numerous conservation groups and by Senator Dianne Feinstein and congressmen Jerry Lewis and Ken Calvert.

Cadiz, Inc., an agricultural company with lands in the Mojave Desert, proposes to mine up to ten billion of gallons of native groundwater from the aquifer beneath its land while also using the aquifer to temporarily store Colorado River water. Cadiz intends to sell the water to the Metropolitan Water District, an agency that sells wholesale water to local agencies in metropolitan southern California.

The bulk of the aquifer, however, underlies and supports five Bureau of Land Management wilderness areas and the Mojave National Preserve. Environmental organizations charge that the groundwater mining could harm a national park and federal wildernesses that overlie the aquifer and generate serious dust storms by lowering the water table. These impacts could harm desert wildlife including the desert bighorn sheep and threatened desert tortoise, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

“Opposition is growing to Cadiz Inc.’s plan to mine native groundwater and jeopardize priceless national treasures,” said Courtney Cuff, pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The hard questions asked by Senator Feinstein and Representatives Lewis and Calvert should make MWD seriously reconsider their support for this project,” charges Courtney Cuff, National Parks Conservation Association,” continues Cuff.

A scientific report released today by Dr. John Bredehoeft, a former senior and researcher and manager with the United States Geological Service and a former editor of the journal, Groundwater, points out the flaws in the project’s monitoring system and indicates that it is unlikely to prevent damage to the public lands and underlying aquifer.

“Cadiz says that they’ll be able to detect problems when they occur. In reality, by the time they confirm signs of trouble, it will likely be too late. This safety net has serious holes in it,” says Dr. Bredehoeft, Ph.D. “If this were just a storage project for Colorado River water, and any pumping was confined to what Cadiz is currently pumping for agriculture which appears to be sustainable, most of my concerns would be addressed.”

An economic report by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, also released yesterday, concludes that the project will be far more expensive than currently estimated by Metropolitan Water District (MWD) consultants.

“The most likely cost for this water is around $850 per acre-foot, 45 percent higher than estimated by MWD consultants,” said Gary Wolff, P.E., Ph.D., principal economist and engineer at the Pacific Institute. “It will be even more expensive if they can’t take much native groundwater: $1,050 an acre-foot or more. Since MWD’s customers currently pay around $400 per acre-foot for wholesale water, and alternative dry-year water supply and storage projects have much lower costs, the Cadiz project doesn’t make much economic sense. Unless, of course, you are a stockholder in Cadiz, Inc. An acre-foot is equal to 325,000 gallons, ¾enough water to supply two households for a year.

On the heels of these reports, a coalition of more than a dozen organizations, including the Western Environmental Law Center, Defenders of Wildlife, California League of Conservation Voters, and the Center for Biological Diversity wrote Governor Gray Davis and appealed to him to oppose the project, stating, “We trust…that overpriced water and lasting environmental damage are not legacies you wish to leave.”

In an August 1, 2001 letter to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, Senator Dianne Feinstein and congressmen Jerry Lewis and Ken Calvert said they could not support the Cadiz project until questions about the aquifer’s
recharge rate and impacts to Mojave National Preserve and Bureau of Land Management Wildernesses and Cadiz versus federal water rights were addressed.

“Given this new information and the increasing doubt about this project, MWD needs to reconsider its interest in this project and figure out how its going to justify its future support for a project that could both waste money and lay waste to protected lands and natural resources,” said Elden Hughes of the Sierra Club.

The reports and the letter from Senator Feinstein, Congressman Lewis and Calvert can downloaded to the right.

The letter to Governor Davis from 13 environmental organizations can be found at: www.axelsabyss.com