The Cadiz water project—which aims to pump 16 billion gallons of water from an aquifer in the Mojave Desert east of Twentynine Palms and ship it to Orange County—has had its ups and downs for nearly two decades. Critics of the project say that Cadiz will deplete the aquifer by pumping out more water than can be replaced naturally; Cadiz claims that in 50 years, the water in the aquifer will only be depleted by 3 to 13 percent. On the plus side for Cadiz, the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for the Cadiz Water Project. A bill in the California legislature that would have imposed additional review on the Cadiz water pumping project failed to pass in the state Senate earlier this year. Multiple lawsuits attempting to stop the Cadiz water project have failed. But, on the minus side, municipal water districts have failed to sign up to purchase water from Cadiz. Managing editor Tami Roleff says another roadblock for the project has come up—this one from the state government…
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was recently reviewing the environmental impact report for the Cadiz water project—which was completed in 2012—and determined that the EIR is flawed and outdated, and that new science demands a more thorough look at the project’s likely environmental harms. A six-page letter to Cadiz’s chief executive officer Scott Slater, said that near-by Bonanza Springs, which serves as a water source for many animals, including the federally protected bighorn sheep, is connected to the Cadiz aquifer. Cadiz has disputed this, but new scientific studies show there Bonanza Springs there is a connection to the Cadiz aquifer, “raising the potential of a substantially increased risk of negative impacts to the desert bighorn sheep that frequent Bonanza Springs.” Pumping from the aquifer would harm the springs and the animals who depend on it. The letter concludes that “Further analysis and additional review” is necessary.
Excerpts from the December 4, 2018, letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to Scott Slater:
“In the course of its review the Department identified information of substantial importance that was developed after the District certified the Project EIR. This new information indicates the Project may cause significant effects not discussed or substantially more severe effects than shown in the Project EIR….
“The Department appreciates the District as CEQA lead agency certified the Project EIR on July 31, 2012; that the District drew related litigation; and that those challenges have run their course…. With that, the Project EIR stands as certified and the Project EIR is presumed adequate as a matter of law…. Finally, the Department appreciates that, with the presumption of legal adequacy attached to the Project EIR, subsequent or supplemental environmental review is disfavored and is the exception to the rule under Public Resources Code section 21166. Indeed, a responsible agency may only determine subsequent or supplemental review is necessary in limited circumstances…. One such circumstance exists where new information of substantial importance shows a project will have a significant effect not discussed in the certified EIR or that significant effects previously examined in the EIR will be substantially more severe…. This may likely be the case here.
“In its review of Project information in preparation for the Project LSA [lake and streambed alteration] notification, the Department identified additional data and reports developed or releases since Project EIR certification and relevant to the Project….
“In addition, the Department began installing GPS collars on desert bighorn sheep … in the area of the Project in 2013. The department has collected extensive GPS data on the species’ movement and use of springs, including Bonanza Spring.
“The roject EIR considered the connection between the groundwater aquifer underlying the Project wellfield and nearby springs and concluded the springs were hydrologically disconnected from the groundwater aquifer…. The Project EIR identified impacts to desert bighorn sheep to be less than significant…. The new information available in recent technical reports, however, demonstrate a hydrologic connection between the aquifer underlying the Project pumping site and nearby Bonanza Spring. The recently collected GPS collar data indicate that desert bighorn sheep utilize Bonanza Spring. Based on the Department’s review of this new information, the Department believes the Project EIR would not be adequate for the Department’s use, as a CEQA responsible agency and the public trustee for wildlife, for regulatory approval of a Project LSA agreement….
“Analysis of the newly collected data indicates that Bonanza Spring is not solely locally sourced from a perched aquifer; this is contrary to the conclusion of the Project EIR that there is no hydraulic continuity between area springs and the regional groundwater table. Bonanza Spring is located in a 50-acre watershed and its flow has remained consistent over periodic measurements since 1929, even during drought periods. Measured spring temperatures are 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average annual ambient air temperature, indicating that the spring water traveled from significant depth….
“In addition to the recent data and reports establishing that Bonanza Spring is fed from a deep regional aqifer rather than a local perched aquifer, chemical and isotopic analyses of groundwater from the Project area and from Bonanza Spring show that Bonanza Spring is connected to groundwater in the Fenner Valley where the Project wellfield is located. The spring and the wellfield share a similar Na-HCO3 chemical composition…. Together, the hydrologic characteristics and the isotopic and geochemical data for Bonanza Spring and other nearby groundwater sources demonstrate that Bonanza Spring and Fenner Valley groundwater underlying the Project wellfield rely on the same precipitation source and are hydraulically connected…
“Since certification of the EIR, information from the recent hydrological reports and desert bighorn sheep GPS collar data raise the specter that impacts to this species may be substantially more severe than the Project EIR discussed.
“In short, the best available science regarding the Project and its potentially significant impacts to nearby Bonanza Spring and desert bighorn sheep has progressed since the District certified the Project EIR. The new information available to the Department does not arise from a single source, but is an accumulation of information from various sources over the past several years. The information from isotopic and chemical analyses of water samples demonstrates a previously unknown connection between the groundwater underlying the Project wellfield and Bonanza Spring. While the Project EIR and the monitoring protocol assumed that Bonanza Spring was hydraulically disconnected from groundwater, subsequent reports demonstrate that Bonanza Spring is connected to the aquifer underlying the Project wellfield. Based on this new information, the Project’s groundwater source is now seen to be connected to the spring, raising the potential of a substantially increased risk of negative impacts to the desert bighorn sheep that frequent Bonanza Spring….
“Further analysis and additional review of these important issues will be necessary for the Department to evaluate the anticipated LSA notification, to consider and take appropriate action in response under the Fish and Game Code, and to fulfill the Department’s public trust responsibility.”