Pumping large amounts water out of our beloved Mojave Desert seems like a strange concept, especially if the water is going to be sent to areas like Orange County. Yet a water extraction project is currently in the works, supported by Rep. Paul Cook, and officially known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project. This water extraction and transfer will be conducted by a corporation, Cadiz, Inc., drawing down vital desert aquifers in the Fenner, Bristol and Cadiz valleys (east of Barstow, near Interstate 40).
Cadiz, Inc. plans to pump 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year for 50 years from the aquifer. To put this into perspective, that’s 16 billion gallons per year, or about 520 gallons each second. Strangely, project proponents say this will actually “conserve” water lost to evaporation in the hot desert, yet the most recent independent estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey state this is about five times the aquifer’s recharge rate. Rain and snow puts only 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet of water back into the aquifer each year, significantly less than what Cadiz, Inc. would pump out.
Also, the National Park Service and independent scientists feel this groundwater is linked to various springs in our desert areas, which wildlife and riparian vegetation depend on. Cadiz’s pumping would most likely cause these springs to dry up. If they are correct, by the time the damage to the springs is detectable, it would be too late to do anything to save them.
If this water extraction project proceeds, it could contribute to an environmental disaster for our Mojave Desert which depends on the underground aquifers and springs. So much life in our desert could be jeopardized, such as tortoises, bighorn sheep, Joshua trees, bobcats, yearly wildflower blooms, migratory birds, and so on. Knowing this, Cadiz, Inc. is attempting to avoid federal oversight by running its water transfer pipeline along a railroad line and using an obscure 1875 law to claim exemption from environmental review by using the railroad right-of-way.
For the most part, this article covers just a portion of the story. Some of you might already know about the Cadiz Water Project, but I think many of you do not. I only started hearing about it this year and it raised some red flags and concerns in my mind. I hope this information will spark your interest in doing further research of your own and contacting our elected officials with your thoughts and concerns.
Here are some things to think about and look into: Why is our Congressional representative supporting pumping water out of the Mojave aquifer and sending it to Orange County? Should there be concern about Department of Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt’s connections with Cadiz, Inc., as the Cadiz project needs federal permits? In addition to environmental issues, will this loss from desert aquifers affect our desert community residents in the future?
State Assembly bill AB1000, introduced last July, bolsters state reviews and attempts to ensure that transfers of our desert groundwater do not adversely affect our region’s natural and cultural resources. I found our local Mojave Water Agency (MWA) opposes the bill as written, but only due to lack of clarity in some of the wording. If amended and clarified appropriately, the Agency could remove its opposition.
Again, I urge my fellow desert citizens to look into this issue, form you own opinions, and let our elected officials hear from you.
Davis Hansen is a Cal State L.A. graduate, military veteran, and former corporate executive who lives in Hesperia.