On May 1, 2014, the Orange County Superior Court ruled against petitioners in six related cases and upheld the EIR for the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage Project. The court noted its concern over the designation of Santa Margarita Water District as the lead agency for the project under CEQA. But it concluded that even if the County of San Bernardino would have been a more appropriate lead agency, these concerns did not provide sufficient grounds for the granting of any of the writs sought by petitioners Delaware Tetra and Center for Biological Diversity.
Cadiz, Inc., is a private corporation that owns approximately 34,000 acres in the Mojave Desert portion of eastern San Bernardino County. A vast groundwater basin capable of holding an estimated 17-34 million acre feet (MAF) underlies the Cadiz property. The groundwater recovery project would allow Cadiz to sell up to 2 MAF of water that would otherwise become saline and evaporate over the next 100 years. The project involves pumping and delivering to water providers like the Santa Margarita Water District a total of 50,000 AF a year for 50 years. The participating water districts and water providers could also send their surplus surface water supplies to the Cadiz Valley Project to recharge the groundwater and store it until the water is needed in subsequent years.
Currently, six entities have signed purchase or option agreements with Cadiz: 1) Santa Margarita Water District, 2) Three Valleys Municipal Water District, 3) Suburban Water Systems, 4) Golden State Water Company, 5) Jurupa Community Services, and 6) California Water Service Company. These entities will receive 80% of the project’s water supplies, while 20% is reserved for future use by water agencies in San Bernardino County.
The project drew CEQA challenges from both the private sector and environmental groups. Petitioner Delaware Tetra Technologies owns a salt mining operation in the Cadiz and Fenner Valleys of San Bernardino County. The groundwater recovery project threatens the continued operation of the salt mine because it will reduce the flow of saline water that creates salt when it evaporates.
In other suits, petitioners Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other conservation groups asserted several CEQA claims, including concern over the potential environmental impacts on nearby springs in wilderness areas and the Mojave National Preserve. They argue that the project would be growth-inducing because the Santa Margarita Water District will send the groundwater it purchases to support development in Orange County. The Orange County Superior Court’s Ruling did not specify its rationale for rejecting petitioners’ CEQA arguments. Instead, the court directed respondents Santa Margarita Water District and the County of San Bernardino to prepare proposed findings as to each petition reflecting that the court adopted the respondents’ arguments but noting that the court had some concerns regarding the lead agency designation. Counsel for CBD has indicated that it will appeal the decision.