Virtually all of California’s water comes from someplace other than where it is consumed. Water travels through hundreds of miles of aqueducts inside the state, from the Sacramento Delta to the Central Valley and the Southland. San Francisco gets its water from the Hetch Hetchy valley in Yosemite National Park, which was flooded by building a dam in the 1920’s, an event which remains controversial to this day. The Colorado River flows through several western states and California, and is so depleted by all of them that it no longer empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The 1974 movie Chinatown fictionalized the real water grab of Owens Valley by Los Angeles. Truth be told, underlying the economy and lifestyles of Californians is often a brass knuckle and incessant fight for water.
The aqueducts and the Colorado River are not covered, which leads to loss of water by evaporation. While a river obviously cannot be covered, the aqueducts aren’t because of fears it could hinder rescue and maintenance crews. Interestingly, a company that has installed floating solar panels in vineyard irrigation ponds proposes to do the same with 400 miles of the aqueduct. The State Water Project is resistant to the idea but is considering installing solar next to the aqueduct.
So, to save water from evaporation, store it for future use, and protect it from earthquakes, Los Angeles- based Cadiz Co. is proposing to take Colorado River water and store it in desert aquifers, in land they own in east San Bernardino County. The pipelines for this plan would cost over $500 million, and they say they have the support of several water utilities in the area. However, it is unclear where the financing would come from.
In 2002, Cadiz floated a similar plan but it was never implemented due to environmental backlash, fears that the Colorado River would not have enough water, and opposition from public water companies that don’t want water privatized. While it’s not clear how the new plan is different from the previous one, environmentalists are holding their fire until Cadiz releases the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) this summer. Cadiz has support from hydrologists and says their Groundwater Stewardship Committee is composed of national experts who will guide the design. So far, opposition to this plan has been nearly as heated as to their 2002 plan. But, that could and probably will change.
One big problem is the Colorado River water. Several states have claims to it, as do dozens of municipalities. Anyone downstream of the Cadiz pipeline from the Colorado to their aquifers will undoubtedly try to block the project. “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” said Mark Twain, and that’s just as true now as then. California doesn’t have sufficient water in naturally-occurring locations near major population and farming centers, so it must always be scrambling for water. This basically pits all the players against each other.
Does the Cadiz plan have merit? We won’t know until the EIR is released. But, it is a useful microcosm which illuminates the big money and power politics behind California water.