A private company’s plan to tap a desert aquifer needs more study before going forward.
The search for reliable water supplies for Southern California has been going on for as long as Americans have lived here, and continues today. State officials are examining a proposal to draw water from the Sacramento River and ship it to this part of California, bypassing the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and its shaky levees. Los Angeles officials are also trying to balance the water needs of the city against their obligations to hold down dust in the Owens Valley, which has long supplied much of Los Angeles’ water and whose brackish lake dried up in the process. The debates over water often are complicated and weighted by competing and compelling interests.
But all water projects are not the same, and one that deserves special scrutiny is a recent proposal to draw thousands of acre-feet of water out of an aquifer that sits beneath the Mojave Desert and send it to users throughout the region, especially the Santa Margarita Water District, which supplies part of Orange County. The water district last week gave the project a boost by approving its environmental impact report.
That’s the latest step in a long march. The project has been pursued for more than a decade by Keith Brackpool, an influential Southern California businessman (Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once worked for Brackpool, who also served as a key water advisor to Gov. Gray Davis). If approved, it would clear the way for Brackpool and his company,Cadiz Inc., to sell enough water every year to serve 100,000 homes. Cadiz could make $1 billion to $2 billion over the 50-year span of the deal.
Some may flinch at the philosophical implications of a private investor selling water that accumulated for centuries beneath his land to public agencies for his own profit. But for better or worse, that bridge was long ago crossed. The farmers of the Owens Valley, for instance, sold their water rights to representatives of Los Angeles in the early 20th century, and that water continues to provide this city with much of its supply.