Squeezing water from a rock

September 25, 2009 § 2 Comments

Already dry.  Mojave River as seen on a 2001 camping trip.

Mojave River as seen on a 2001 camping trip.

(acknowledgments and thanks to Emily Green of Chance of Rain blog for being the primary source of information for this piece)

Do you know where your water comes from?

I expect most of you do.  Besides our local groundwater (which probably supplies 10-15% of the water we as a basin consume), our water is shipped from far-away watersheds, the sources of which are magnificent mountain ranges like the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies.

But the source of your water may soon be the desert.

Along came a gentleman aptly named Brackpool, who acquired a vast swath of land in the Mojave Desert.  His proposal might sound like squeezing water from a rock, yet offered water managers some reliability:  he would use the Mojave River aquifer as a recharge basin for Colorado River delivery in wet years, and sell both this and the native groundwater for our use.  This is the crux of the term “water banking.”

Ever been to the desert?  I don’t mean the baking-hot Target parking lot on La Cienega, but a real desert:  somewhere like the Mojave where the rare river is a lifeline for the species that depend upon it.  Lined with desert willows and cottonwoods.  Point is, you suck down that aquifer even a little bit and those trees will die, as had been happening on the Rio San Pedro in Arizona, as happened here in the LA Basin when we got pump-happy at the turn of the century, and well, almost everywhere in the West.

Brackpool’s proposal got shot down earlier this millenium as its claims were questionable and the environmental impacts considerable, but he’s back – and now has the Governor’s support.  His investors have kept him afloat for years but with this support his stock shot up.What’s more, LA Observed reports that he’s been vacationing with our mayor(who was his consultant at one time), and another one of his former consultants (who was also sitting on the PUC) is now the Gov’s chief of staff.  The Gov also just nominated him to the California Horse Racing Board.  Oh, and now his company, Cadiz, is not just about water banking – but also renewable energy and conservation.  He obviously hasn’t been reading the High Country News reports (“High Noon” and “Solar Sense” for example) on the conflict between solar and wind farms and desert conservation.

This is David and Goliath, where Goliath has taken a page from Freddy Krueger and keeps coming back.  Please take the time to follow the news on this story, and if this touches you, get involved.  Emily Green at the Chance of Rain blog has done excellent research and is keenly following this story, and LA Observed and the LA Times is also staying on top of the political relationships.  With a packed slate of investors and politicians on Cadiz’s side, it’s hard to believe the desert will come out of this fight untarnished.

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§ 2 Responses to Squeezing water from a rock

  • Emily Green says:

    Good post and thank you for heightening attention about this. Cadiz is making an offer that is too good to be true — that LA’s water woes can be solved by taping an ancient aquifer underlying the Mojave without harming the Mojave. What you describe so well here — the exquisite desert ecosystems that survive around seeps and creeks whose force in a place with 2″ rain a year rely on groundwater pressure — have been in balance for thousands of years. It would take mere years of pumping by Brackpool to destroy a national treasure. Make that international treasure — our southwestern deserts are the last of these ecosystems left in the world.

  • Laer Pearce says:

    I know where my water comes from: the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River. I live in South Orange County where we have no aquifer, and I’m glad my water district, Santa Margarita Water District, has been working for years on new water sources – recycling, stormwater capture and re-use, water-banking and of course conservation. I’m very pleased they’re working with Cadiz (a client) on this project, as it is a beneficial and sustainable use of a needed resource, water.

    As for the trees, the project draws at sustainable levels from a deep aquifer and won’t harm them or other elements of the desert environment. Please read the biology and hydrology sections of the EIR, if you are interested in more information. Biology: http://goo.gl/QJkH2 Hydrology: http://goo.gl/L3ngv

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