Cadiz Water Project: Brief History

Three decades ago a group of businessmen used NASA satellite imagery as part of a worldwide hunt for large groundwater reserves they could tap to grow desert crops. They found the signs they were looking for in the Mojave Desert, 200 miles east of Los Angeles. The group, which founded Cadiz Inc., bought old railroad land, drilled wells and planted neat grids of citrus trees and grapevines, irrigating them with water that bubbled out of the desert depths at the rate of 2,000 gallons a minute. However, it wasn’t long until their agricultural endeavor turned into sour grapes that the company decided to turn to a new venture…selling the water.

As a publicly traded company, Cadiz, Inc. is roughly $56 million in debt and so in an attempt to become profitable Scott Slater and his business cronies devised a plan to pump 200,000 acre-feet of water out of the Mojave Desert and transfer it to Los Angeles in a deal proposed with the Metropolitan Water District. The heavily flawed plan ran into to a heap of criticism almost immediately. The environmental concerns coupled with the fact that the amount of water being pumped out would ultimately suck the underground aquifer dry caused the deal to fall flat. The deal was so bad that the purchaser of the water, the Metropolitan Water District, voted against the project.

As the dust settled and everyone thought the bad deals were over, Scott Slater and Cadiz, Inc. is back with a “new” proposal to sell the water to a group of local water agencies with the majority of the water going to the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD.) The plan however is even more flawed than the 2002 proposal. A of many problems with the purchase is how the deal affects local SMWD ratepayers. According to the Los Angeles Times, the water being pumped from Cadiz would be among the most expensive in the Southland. An economic analysis has shown that water rates for SMWD ratepayers could go up by as much as 35.1 percent.

Another major problem with the project is the fact that Cadiz intends to withdraw more water every year than nature puts back in the ground, lowering the groundwater table and depleting aquifers. Cadiz proposes to pump 16 BILLION gallons of water, every year, for 50 years from desert aquifers. This is at a rate of over 150 percent more than natural replenishment, even if you accept Cadiz’s biased and overly-optimistic projections of water recharge rates.

Besides environmental and economic concerns of this plan, there are a number of questions surrounding alleged back room deals between Cadiz, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Margarita Water District. According to the Voice of OC, Orange County’s nonprofit investigative news agency, SMWD is one of several water districts under investigation for engaging in as many as 30 secret meetings to advance the Cadiz proposal. And, SMWD voted to approve a letter of intent to negotiate with Cadiz a full year before the first public discussion of the project. The San Bernardino County board of supervisors also voted to give Cadiz an exemption from the county’s desert groundwater ordinance.

The newly proposed water project by Cadiz is a terribly flawed proposal that will be catastrophic to not only the Mojave National Preserve, but also to South Orange County residents who will have to foot an enormous bill. Cadiz and the SMWD are attempting to fast track this project for approval before ratepayers and the general public knows what it entails. The motives are pretty clear, Cadiz stands to profit tremendously from the project, and considering South Orange County has enough water already, the SMWD is pushing the project through to be able to secure enough water to continue to overdevelop South Orange County.