Posts Tagged ‘Groundwater’

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.

On January 27, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown issued the California Water Action Plan, which highlights the challenges for managing the State’s water resources and outlines strategic goals and actions to provide more reliable water supplies, restore important species and habitat, and establish a more resilient and sustainably managed water resource system for farms, ecosystems and communities. The plan specifically identified a number of actions to implement sustainable groundwater management practices. One of those actions called for legislation to provide local and regional agencies with comprehensive authority to manage groundwater. If those agencies fail to achieve sustainable management, the Plan proposes allowing the state to temporarily assume responsibility for groundwater management. The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is now seeking input on actions that can be taken to improve groundwater management in California.

Groundwater control has generally been left to local efforts and courts; California has no comprehensive authority for monitoring or regulating groundwater. One primary objective of the Plan is to establish a legal framework through which to improve groundwater management and expand groundwater storage capacity.

OPR planned two sustainable groundwater management workshops, on March 24 and April 16, facilitated by the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Natural Resources Agency. The purpose of the workshops is to solicit ideas and approaches to groundwater management.

OPR now seeks input on the following questions:

  • What new or modified statutory authorities do local and regional agencies need to manage groundwater more effectively?
  • What would help local agencies overcome barriers to funding for conservation, projects, and programs?
  • What types of governance structures are most effective for managing groundwater locally, and should these models be encouraged?
  • What specific data and information do local managers need to succeed? What should be done to help them obtain the data?
  • What can be done to help local and regional agencies manage a basin or sub-basin that spans multiple jurisdictions?
  • Are there improvements to the groundwater adjudication process that would make it more useful and cost-effective for local authorities?
  • What role should groundwater management plans play, and does their content need to change?
  • What incentives could local and regional agencies be given to improve groundwater management?
  • Should local groundwater management planning be connected, through formal processes, to land use decisions, county general plans, or integrated regional water management plans? If so, what kind of formal processes?

More information can be found at:

Written comments are due to OPR by April 25, 2014.