SAN BERNARDINO — County supervisors approved a plan Monday, Oct. 1, to monitor water removal from an aquifer east of Twentynine Palms for export to Orange County.
The Cadiz Valley water project’s groundwater monitoring plan passed on a 4-1 vote with Neil Derry, the Morongo Basin’s representative on the board, in opposition.
About 10 Basin residents were at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting, including Seth Shteir, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We’re really concerned about the springs in the Mojave Preserve,” Shteir said from his Joshua Tree office Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 2.
An environmental impact report predicts the removal of 50,000 acre feet of water a year will have no significant impacts, a finding Shteir said doesn’t seem sensible.
The project isn’t signed and sealed yet. Santa Margarita Water and Cadiz Inc., the project’s backers, must win approval from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to transport water in the Colorado River aqueduct.
The Municipal Water District of Orange County also must OK the plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society are suing in San Bernardino County court to challenge the project.
Another lawsuit has been filed by a brine-mining company that alleges its work will be compromised.
Group asks for independent analysis
“It’s unfortunate so much water is going out of the county to provide for unsustainable growth and for exotic landscaping and swimming pools,” Shteir added.
Santa Margarita Water District is the lead agency on the Cadiz project. Shteir said 70 percent of Santa Margarita’s water irrigates parks, golf courses and landscaping.
“Their rate payers pay a lower cost for their water than our rate payers,” Shteir pointed out, “creating a disincentive to conserve. Instead of robust conservation measures, they have looked to San Bernardino County to provide water for unsustainable growth.”
Shteir cautioned that groundwater management is extremely complex and said the National Parks Conservation Association would prefer to see an independent agency like the U.S. Geological Survey establishing criteria for monitoring the Cadiz project, as opposed to San Bernardino County and the project proponent.
They didn’t get everything they wanted
“My constituents have made it clear what their position is; I represent them,” Derry said of his dissenting vote.
Derry said significant concerns about the project need to be addressed.
The supervisor pointed out San Bernardino County maintains the right to shut down the project at any time if its monitoring detects environmental damage.
“They did not get everything they wanted,” Derry said.
During his comments at Monday’s meeting, Derry thanked his staff and Cadiz for working so diligently together, although he stated he disagrees with the outcome.
“There’s one thing to remember in the desert,” Derry cautioned. “Water is a vital resource that needs to be protected for all users.”
Cadiz: We look forward to working together
Scott Slater, Cadiz president and general counsel, stated in a news release Tuesday, “As a member of the desert community for over 25 years, Cadiz has taken great care to ensure that the project will protect critical resources of the desert by committing to comprehensive, long-term monitoring enforced by San Bernardino County.”
Slater went on to thank the supervisors for their favorable review of the project and said he looks forward to working together.