Senator Feinstein Raises Serious Concerns About Latest Proposal to Drain Groundwater from Mojave Preserve Aquifer
- Feinstein announces intention to hold hearing on proposal –
Sep 23 2008
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, today raised serious questions about the latest proposal from Cadiz Inc. to drain water from an aquifer under the California desert for use in Southern California.
In a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, Senator Feinstein asked for a detailed analysis of the new proposal and asked a series of questions about the viability of the project.
Following is the letter:
September 23, 2008
The Honorable Dirk Kempthorne
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Secretary Kempthorne:
I recently learned of a new proposal by Cadiz Inc. to construct a water conveyance pipeline along the Arizona & California Railroad Company’s right-of-way in the Mojave Desert. Given the troubled history of this project, I have serious concerns about this latest development and continue to believe the Cadiz proposal threatens the precious groundwater resources essential to sustaining habitat and wildlife in the Mojave National Preserve and surrounding areas.
This latest proposal from Cadiz merits close scrutiny by the Department of the Interior. I request that you conduct a detailed analysis of the new proposal, including an assessment of the availability of Colorado River water for storage, permissible uses of this right-of-way and Cadiz’ groundwater monitoring plan. Additionally, I want to make you aware that I intend to hold a hearing on this matter and request that you testify.
As with previous iterations, this latest version of the Cadiz Valley Aquifer Storage Project poses a serious threat to the desert and the Mojave Preserve in particular by potentially depleting water supplies which plants and wildlife rely upon for survival. Despite being rejected by the Metropolitan Water District years ago, Cadiz proposes to construct a pipeline along the railroad right-of-way with the hope of connecting to the Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River Aqueduct. Cadiz also proposes to store up to 1,000,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water.
Critically, Cadiz proposes to withdraw native groundwater from the aquifer on a “temporary” basis, without any assurance that the borrowed water will ever be returned to the desert’s fragile aquifer.
I find the Cadiz proposal very troubling and ask you to provide me with your assessment. Specifically, I would appreciate you answering the following questions:
- Are you aware of any assurance that Cadiz will ever replenish its “temporary” withdrawals of the scarce desert groundwater supplies?
- Earlier USGS studies have estimated that the groundwater recharge rate for the desert aquifer was 5 to 25 times less than the original environmental impact statement for the Cadiz project estimated. Is there any new evidence that has caused USGS to change its view of the fragility of the desert aquifer?
- We are currently in a drought in the Lower Colorado Basin, and California is required to reduce its use of Colorado River water from 5.2 to 4.4 million acre feet under the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement. In addition, Science Magazine reported in April 2007 that based on a study of 20 climate models, within a few decades the average water year in the Southwest will look like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, or the severe 1950s droughts. Given these realities, do you expect that there will be substantial excess flows on the Colorado River available for storage in the Cadiz groundwater bank?
- If excess Colorado River flows do become available, will it make sense to store them at Cadiz? Since the Cadiz project was originally proposed, Southern California has gained the ability to store any surplus water within the tens of millions of acre-feet of available storage at Lake Mead. Any surplus flows released from Lake Mead can be stored in regulating reservoirs that are being built right off the Colorado River Aqueduct. Given these new, low-cost water storage options for Colorado River flows, is there any evidence that it would be a more cost-effective alternative to pump water to and from the Aqueduct and into and out of the groundwater bank at Cadiz?
- Is the construction of a water conveyance pipeline permissible on the Arizona & California Railroad right-of-way given that it was intended to allow rail service across Bureau of Land Management property?
- What federal approvals and environmental analysis would be necessary to allow the construction, operation and maintenance of Cadiz’ proposed pipeline?
- Given that any potentially available water would have to be transported by the Colorado River Aqueduct, is the project viable without the approval of the Metropolitan Water District?
- Cadiz’ original groundwater management plan required the installation of 185 monitoring wells, including numerous wells on BLM and Mojave Preserve land. Is the project viable without the permits for the installation and operation of these wells on federal lands?
- The original groundwater management plan also proposed that aquifer injection and extraction be overseen by a technical advisory committee that included the BLM, National Park Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. What role, if any, would they have under this new proposal?
I understand that Cadiz is promoting its project as a solution for California’s drought. I have long been an advocate for aggressive steps to improve California’s water supply and address the drought, including my recent co-authorship with Governor Schwarzenegger of a proposed comprehensive water bond, my advocacy for surface storage projects and improved Delta conveyance, my sponsorship of numerous water recycling and conveyance projects in southern California, and my funding of hundreds of millions of dollars of California water projects per year as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
I will not support, however, drought relief projects that threaten permanent harm to California’s environment. It appears that Cadiz has failed to establish that surplus Colorado River flows are either likely to be available or cost-effective for storage in Cadiz, and its only other option is to mine the scarce groundwater resources of the Mojave Desert. If this is the case, California has many better choices for addressing its drought than destroying significant parts of its natural heritage.
Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.
United States Senator