O.C. water board approves Cadiz's desert-pumping plans
A proposal to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert and sell it to Southern California suburbs won its first stamp of approval Tuesday night when a south Orange County water district voted to move ahead with the project.
The Santa Margarita Water District board voted 5-0 to approve Cadiz's Inc.'s pumping plans under the state's environmental law and also OKd a purchase agreement to buy 10% of the project's proposed annual yield.
But the water district's authority to certify the project's environmental review has been challenged in lawsuits and the proposal faces a number of other hurdles, including possible scrutiny by the federal government, which owns the public lands surrounding the project site 200 miles east of Los Angeles.
The proposal is the latest attempt by British entrepreneur Keith Brackpool, the head of Cadiz, to make money off the desert aquifer beneath his company's holdings. Opponents, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have warned that the pumping could harm the nearby Mojave National Preserve.
Cadiz proposes to withdraw enough water every year to supply 100,000 homes and sell it at prices that could reap $1 billion to $2 billion in revenue over the life of the project. If the company succeeds, it would set precedents in California's emerging private water market.
The Santa Margarita Water District, which is the first to finalize a purchase agreement with Cadiz, has said the desert groundwater would supplement deliveries from Northern California and the Colorado River that have been squeezed by drought and environmental restrictions.
— Bettina Boxall
Photo: Cadiz Inc. hopes to build a conveyance pipeline along railroad tracks to export groundwater from the Mojave Desert. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times