Desert Water Storage Plan Gets New Life

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An L.A. company's long delayed plan to store water under the desert and sell it to Southern California users has found new life. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports a different climate may greet the Cadiz project a decade after it began.

Molly Peterson: It was a simple plan. In rainy years, the Cadiz company wanted to pump extra Colorado River water into a storage bank under 35,000 acres it owned. In drought, Cadiz would pump water out, and charge fees on both ends. Six years ago, worries about what active pumping might do to nearby federal wildland dried up local support. But now, Cadiz CEO Rick Stoddard says the water might start flowing.

Rick Stoddard: Under the new circumstances and so much attention being called to California's water shortage, we're just excited to be involved.

Peterson: Cadiz now has a right-of-way along a rail line, so it can pipe water alongside train tracks instead of over pristine habitat. And Stoddard says these days, Cadiz knows more about rainfall patterns and about safe pumping practices than it used to.

Stoddard: We have proposed a very sophisticated groundwater monitoring and management plan, the whole goal of which is to make sure that the water usage and the water replenishment stay in balance, so that the aquifer can be sustainable in perpetuity.

Peterson: Without federal lands under the pipeline, some environmentalists' concerns are gone. But Peter Gleick of the water-policy focused Pacific Institute is still skeptical about impacts.

Peter Gleick: It was never clear to us that they could sustainably operate this economically without over-pumping groundwater, which is a very delicate thing in the desert. You pump a little extra groundwater, and you dry up very sensitive ecosystems throughout the region.

Peterson: That region has boomed with development in the last decade. Desert and Inland Empire water agencies and users could be Cadiz customers. And this time around, San Bernardino County is the sole agency that must approve the project.