Posted on | February 3, 2012 | 1 Comment
As promised, some Friday notes on Lake Mead, Colorado River snowpack and two public comment meetings on the groundwater mining project proposed for Cadiz Valley in the eastern California Mojave.
First, according to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead closed January 2012 at 1,134.18 feet. The good news is that the continued decanting of last year’s record snowpack down the Colorado River storage system has pushed Mead, its largest reservoir, to 58% full, the highest elevation since 2006.
And so to the Mojave desert, where on Wednesday night (February 1st) the Santa Margarita Water District held its second public comment meeting about a draft environmental impact report for what it styles as the “Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.”
“I preferred the first meeting,” joked Daniel Ferons. And so the assiduously couth chief engineer for the Santa Margarita Water District would have. At the Rancho Santa Margarita meeting on January 24th, roughly 20 of maybe 30 speakers, mainly from the Orange County Chamber of Commerce, were all for Mojave water being shipped to Orange County. Also testifying in favor of the project were some San Bernardino County pipe makers and well casing manufacturers. By way of garnish, there was a lady from a Los Angeles-based salad company saying that because Cadiz, Inc operates an organic farm, she was confident that the wholesome organic values would extend to the water exportation business.
So much for smart food.
Far fewer Cadiz promoters sought three minutes at the microphone last Wednesday at the Joshua Community Center. A personal favorite was a man named Andrew Stone, representative of a New Hampshire-based nonprofit called the American Ground Water Trust, who we were asked to believe was somehow in the neighborhood and dropped by in the name of sound science to say what a fine idea it was to take 50,000 acre feet of water a year from the aquifer underlying a dry lake next to the Mojave National Preserve and ship it to Southern California suburbs. “This project is not going to take all of the groundwater,” he said. “It is just going to take some of the groundwater.”
Mr Stone is listed by the Cadiz-sponsored draft environmental review as part of the monitoring committee that will enable the pumpers to keep track of their own impacts, while shutting out seasoned USGS hydrologists specializing in the Mojave.
A recurring theme from roughly 25 commenters at the Joshua Tree meeting was the request for a 90-day extension of the 45-day period currently being allowed the public to read and digest a draft environmental impact study bigger than both the old and new testaments.
Many asked for the project to be submitted to federal reviewers including the US Geological Survey and National Park Service.
One woman, an archaeologist based in Needles, rose repeatedly to argue that Cadiz was in violation of the Brown Act to do with poor noticing and failure to sufficiently involve the desert dwellers of San Bernardino County. She made a lot of sense, until she began rambling about halitosis of project proponents.
Leathery men bore the most poignant witness. Phillip Smith, a Chemehuevi, drove 150 miles from Needles when he learned that the Colorado River Tribes hadn’t been notified of plans to pump groundwater from what he considers sacred ground. “Name one tribe you’ve met with,” he demanded of Cadiz promoters. “There are five tribes in this area.”
Cadiz, Inc and Rancho Santa Margarita Water District reps had no answers for Smith, or a rancher and a wildlife warden, all of whom drove hours to ask about their wells, about wildlife, about poor notification, about why there weren’t comment meetings within 80 miles of the proposed project pumps?
Debbie Cook, former mayor of Huntington Beach, environmental lawyer and latterly a fearless corruption buster, rose to urge Mojave residents to ask themselves who benefits from this scheme? Why was Cadiz hiring the company behind the environmental impact review and not Rancho Santa Margarita? Where was the oversight? “Why are we going forward?” she asked. “Because people are going to make a ton of money. This project would only make sense if they were going to recharge first. They want to pull water first. “
Perhaps the most encouraging moment came when Seth Shteir, a representative of the National Parks Conservation Association, demanded why Cadiz had not released the parameters of their groundwater modeling for review by the association’s hydrologist? Since the canny lawyering on the part of Cadiz speculators has so far cut out all federal agencies, agencies that employ government scientists specifically to review projects like this, protestants have largely been unable to fill the gap with privately paid hydrologists. “I’m asking you today, ‘Will you turn over the models?'” Shteir demanded.
“Turn them over!” cried someone from the crowd. A Santa Margarita rep said that Shteir’s expert could come in and meet with their experts.
If the requested extension is not granted, the comment period on the draft Cadiz EIR will close on February 13th, 2012. Written comments, including a return address and contact name, should go to Tom Barnes, ESA, 626 Wilshire Boulevard, Ste. 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90017, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone: 213-599-4300. The National Parks Conservation Association has posted an online petition opposing the project. The Center for Biological Diversity has a petition and prepared protest letter, which as a critic of this project, I was delighted to see, though I believe that beyond the environmental collapse clearly predictable from the pumping that there are many more reasons to do with American heritage, public health, open government, honest commerce and basic fairness that also cry out for all Californians to oppose this project.
Previously on Cadiz: Commenting on the unspeakable
* This post was edited 2/4/2012. A climate prediction center map was replaced by a Reclamation one from the February 2012 update to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.