DONALD Trump’s ascendancy to the White House has been good to Cadiz, Inc, a private company whose scheme to sell Mojave Desert groundwater to Southern California cities has soared from the brink of bankruptcy to viability in six short months. The stock has more than doubled in value and, as of late January, the Cadiz Water Project has become Number 15 on the U.S. President’s recommended infrastructure projects. Last month, Trump’s new team at the Bureau of Land Management announced a policy reversal clearly aimed at sparing Cadiz scrutiny by federal hydrologists—conveniently for Cadiz, the same hydrologists whose comments proved fatal to an earlier iteration of the project.
Cadiz’s original bid to mine desert groundwater, pipe it more than 40 miles across federal land, then move it in the publicly owned Colorado River Aqueduct began more than two decades ago. Before a partnership was minted between the aqueduct operator, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Cadiz speculators, as part of federal compliance, the massive regional water wholesaler put Cadiz’s claim to federal hydrologists. Did, in fact, Cadiz’s target desert basin near Needles, California, have roughly 45 million gallons a day of groundwater to spare? What would the impact be on neighboring Mojave National Preserve and even the nearby Colorado River? Reviewers from U.S. Geological Survey responded that the company may have exaggerated the target area’s annual rain recharge as much as 15 times over. After USGS reviewers also recommended a restricted pumping plan to protect the region against irreversible damage, Metropolitan withdrew from the project.
Down but not out, in the late aughts, the Cadiz project was revived under a new company CEO, water lawyer Scott Slater. This version claimed the same amount of water, only more aggressively pumped from deep in the carbonate aquifer. Unlike pumping from the shallower alluvium, as prescribed by the USGS, in which case cones of depression can be monitored, impacts of pumping from the deep carbonate aquifer can be far harder, even impossible to trace. Damage can be drastic and too far from project wells to definitively correlate to a groundwater project until impacts are irreversible. Insulation from liability is exactly why groundwater miners like pumping this way.
Best of all for Slater, Cadiz 2.0 would be immune from USGS criticism. The renewed project wouldn’t require federal review, argued Slater, because Cadiz would run its pipeline not on federal land, but on an existing easement enjoyed by Cadiz’s new partner, the Arizona & California Railroad.
When the Obama-era Bureau of Land Management challenged a maneuver plainly designed to avoid federal compliance, Cadiz officers, flacks and proxies cried regulatory overload and expected us to believe that they really wanted to extend the project definition to include fire suppression in the desert for creosote-soaked railway trestles. As Trump’s BLM moves to reverse Obama-era opposition, Cadiz also claims that it has all new groundwater science that makes their pumping good for the environment. The more they pump, the better all that desert rain can infiltrate before it evaporates!
What Cadiz demonstrably has is all-new cover from scientific scrutiny done in the public, not private, interest.
Also by Emily Green, “Forget it Jake: It’s Cadiz,” KCET, June 7, 2016