Rancho Santa Margarita, meet Calleguas

Posted on | May 8, 2012 | 2 Comments

UPDATED 5/11/2012: As the board of the Rancho Santa Margarita Water District wades through the Draft Environmental Impact Report produced for them by their partners at Cadiz, Inc in the bid to involve the Orange County municipal water company in a water mining scheme in the Mojave Desert, let us pause to look at some bona fides of a lead Cadiz consultant. Cadiz engineer Terry Foreman would have Rancho Santa Margarita believe that “using 50,000 acre-feet per year is optimal for conservation” from a basin with recharge that is perhaps one tenth of that, and that mining groundwater poses “no long-term impacts to the desert environment.”

Believe that and you’ll believe in chocolate cake diets, so it seems unlikely that anyone involved in the project really cares about the Mojave. Yet when it comes to cost, the Rancho Santa Margarita Water District board of directors might reasonably be expected to care. To this end, it may behoove them to read up on the fate of another water company to believe fecund calculations* made by Foreman, the CH2M Hill  consultant now making the claims for Cadiz’s supposed “conservation” potential. One of  the biggest previous projects on his resume was something called the “Las Posas Basin Aquifer Storage and Recovery Project.”  To see how that worked out for the Ventura County water agency that bought into the project for what looks from press reports like $139 million, the Rancho Santa Margarita board may wish to read these items from the VC Reporter and Ventura County Star. If the Star report is correct, after spending $86 million to get the project up and running, after Las Posas failed the Calleguas Municipal Water District also recently had to pony up another $53m to reimburse partners at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. There is no mention of whether or not consulting engineers had to suffer any penalties along with ratepayers.

UPDATE :  Inflated expectations of the actual capacity of the Las Posas project were not due to “fecund calculations” of CH2M Hill hydrologist Terry Foreman but a Calleguas employee according to Calleguas General Manager Susan Mulligan. To read a 1998 technical memorandum from Mr Foreman concerning the capacity of the Las Posas project, click here. “It was quite clear about the fact that (1) basin water levels would decrease significantly when wells were pumped and (2) that excessive injection would likely cause a decrease in natural recharge.  It is this concern about excessive storage decreasing natural recharge which recently led Calleguas to lower its expectations about the quantity of storage space available,” she wrote in a personal communication after posting the comment below. I respond to her comment here.


2 Responses to “Rancho Santa Margarita, meet Calleguas”

  1. David Zetland
    May 9th, 2012 @ 6:57 am

    Incentives matter. It would be nice if consultants needed to report their past failures as well as successes…

  2. Susan Mulligan
    May 11th, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

    My name is Susan Mulligan, General Manager of the Calleguas Municipal Water District (Calleguas). I have been with Calleguas for nearly 20 years, serving as Manager of Engineering prior to becoming the General Manager.

    I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Green’s May 8, 2012 blog regarding “Rancho Santa Margarita, Meet Calleguas.” Ms. Green has used some local newspaper articles to try to make two points: 1) that CH2M HILL, and specifically that Mr. Terry Foreman, provided bad science and engineering on Calleguas’ Las Posas Basin Aquifer Storage and Recharge (ASR) Project and, 2) that the project was a failure. Both points are false.

    On the first point, Mr. Foreman’s projections of the response of the Las Posas Basin groundwater levels to the ASR Project have proven to be very accurate. In 1998 he performed modeling and provided a report to Calleguas which predicted exactly the basin response which was observed a decade later when the ASR Project produced water during a three year drought. We are totally satisfied with his work and have complete confidence in the groundwater analyses and recommendations that he and his firm provided to Calleguas.

    On the second point, the ASR Project is not a failure, but a key part of Calleguas’ water supply reliability portfolio. Since the project went into service in 2007, 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater storage has been put in place for use when imported supplies are curtailed for an emergency or other water supply shortfall. Recently, Calleguas repositioned the project to be under local control, rather than a regional project, through acquisition of all facilities from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. We certainly do not consider this a failure of the project.

    I hope that this information clears up the misrepresentations made in the May 8th blog.

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