Cook: Orange County Water District Should Distance Itself from the Cadiz Water Project

I am opposed to the Orange County Water District entering into a non-binding water purchase agreement with Cadiz Inc. as it is yet another water scheme that is both economically and environmentally flawed. Even though the amount of water being proposed for purchase by OCWD is trivial, less than 1% of its demand, it would consume far more than 1% of staff time, and divert attention away from worthy projects like the Groundwater Replenishment System expansion.

If you are not familiar with Cadiz, it is no surprise. Only water wonks and desert rats have been paying attention. Cadiz is the bad idea of its originator, Keith Brackpool who, according to Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, “ came to the U.S. after pleading guilty to criminal charges relating to securities trading in Britain.” Brackpool’s idea is to mine fossil water from a 34,000 acre tract of land the company owns in the Mojave Desert, and then pipe it to Orange County.

To reach this objective, the company has to achieve a number of feats, not the least of which is to, (1) avoid preparing an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and, (2) gain access to the Colorado River Aqueduct which is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. If Cadiz can avoid an EIS, they can then avoid the scrutiny of USGS hydrologists who take issue with the Cadiz’ natural recharge rates which have been suggested by independent hydrologists to be up to 16 times higher than reality.

Cadiz has contrived a unique “logic” to avoid such a review. Their proposal is to build a pipeline along an existing railroad right-of-way through BLM land. In order to do this they must present an argument that their water pipeline is somehow related to a railroad purpose. With a straight face, they propose to build much needed desert fire hydrants that the railroad can use to put out non-existent fires. Enough said.

The second effort, reaching an agreement with MWD, may be an even bigger challenge and not because Cadiz hasn’t greased the skids of nearly every politician and labor union in California. Former employees or board members include: former Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former Schwarzenegger Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy, to name a few.

No, the reason MWD is a challenge is two-fold, (1) MWD spent millions between 2002 and 2009 defending against a Cadiz lawsuit challenging an earlier denial, and (2) why would MWD forego its future ability for using the full capacity of its pipeline? But you never know, perhaps MWD needs some fire hydrants to put out fires along the aqueduct.

While there are many more reasons for OCWD to say no to Cadiz (including Chromium VI contamination and long term environmental consequences to our newly created Mojave Trails National Monument and Mojave National Preserve), it just makes no sense to pay $1500 for something you can get for $600. But that’s what we will be doing if the OCWD board goes along with Anaheim’s OCWD representative, Councilman Jordan Brandman, who fast-tracked this item onto the OCWD agenda. Brandman was defeated in his re-election for city council.

The Orange County Water District should deny entering into any agreement with Cadiz or at the very least, postpone their decision until the newly elected Anaheim City Council decides who they want representing them on the OCWD board. Hopefully they will choose someone who is willing to make a deep dive into the subject matter rather than just popping into a meeting long enough promote dubious projects.

Debbie Cook is a former mayor of Huntington Beach.  She serves as Board President of post carbon institute.

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