July 31, 2012

SMWD Board Votes to Advance Cadiz Project

Supplemental New Water Supply Would Increase Reliability and Help Stabilize Rates

After more than two years of extensive study and environmental review, the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) Board of Directors voted at its special board meeting to advance the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project (Cadiz Project) by certifying its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. SMWD served as lead agency for the project’s environmental review.

The Cadiz Project would provide a new supplemental Southern California water supply, increasing reliability and helping stabilize rates for SMWD. In addition to certifying the FEIR, the SMWD Board also voted to approve a Water Purchase and Sale Agreement (Purchase Agreement), which outlined the operational structure and financial terms for the District’s participation in the Cadiz Project.  Also approved was the Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan (GMMMP), which creates a framework for independent monitoring of the project’s operations and protection of the desert’s natural resources.

The Board required both the Purchase Agreement and the GMMMP to be harmonized to provide that monitoring activities move forward following execution of the Purchase Agreement. This requirement ensures that scientific data will continue to be collected during any delays to project implementation.

The Board also required the creation of a community advisory group to provide input to the District as it carries out the monitoring and mitigation for the project.

The Cadiz Project will need further approvals and permits to become operational, but the certification of its FEIR and the other Board approvals are major milestones in the proposed project.

“For decades, the District has relied on imported water to meet our customers’ needs, and that supply has become increasingly unreliable because of drought, regulatory restrictions and the prospect of an earthquake or other major disaster disrupting the state’s primary water delivery system,” said Bill Lawson, SMWD Board President. “It is our duty and fiduciary responsibility as a public agency to explore additional, supplemental supplies of water.”

The Purchase Agreement approved by the Board outlines the basic financial terms for SMWD to purchase at least 5,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Cadiz Project, if it becomes operational. The 5,000 acre-feet of water represents approximately 20% of the District’s overall water sales and would help to diversify supply and increase reliability.

The price of the treated water is estimated to be between $827 and $1,127 per acre-foot, which would be comparable to the projected future price of the District’s current imported water supply, provided by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

As with any new supplemental water source the District explores, water delivered to SMWD from the Cadiz Project would be required to meet all federal and state standards for drinking water, which are some of the most stringent in the nation. Groundwater at Cadiz, without any treatment, meets all current state and federal water quality standards for drinking water.

The Purchase Agreement also authorizes the District and Cadiz to continue to the next steps, which include permitting, design, construction, budgeting and developing an agreement with MWD to deliver the project’s water to SMWD.

The Groundwater Monitoring, Management and Mitigation Plan the Board approved would establish a robust monitoring program in partnership with San Bernardino County to provide independent oversight of the operations of the Cadiz Project and protection for the desert’s natural resources, if the project becomes operational.

For more than 45 years, SMWD has provided its customers a safe, affordable and reliable supply of water. However, the District currently relies almost entirely on imported water supplies that are threatened by recurring drought cycles, regulatory restrictions and potential natural disasters, like earthquakes. Accordingly, SMWD is exploring additional innovative and diverse opportunities to protect reliability and help stabilize rates.

The Cadiz Project would provide a new Southern California water supply by actively managing a groundwater basin that is part of a 1,300-square-mile watershed in eastern San Bernardino County. Water that would otherwise evaporate would be collected and conserved for beneficial use. The project would then convey the conserved water to SMWD and to other Southern California water providers.

An independent team of scientific, environmental and engineering experts was engaged to conduct a comprehensive environmental review, to obtain public input and determine the feasibility of the Cadiz Project. After obtaining that public input and carefully evaluating the project, SMWD issued a nearly 3,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) in December 2011. The DEIR found the project would avoid any significant unmitigatable impacts to desert resources—except for some short-term construction emissions.

“Santa Margarita Water District conducted a comprehensive environmental review and feasibility analysis of this project and we greatly appreciate all the input and comments provided by stakeholders and our customers,” said Roger Faubel, SMWD Board Member. “Given our reliance on imported water, it is crucial that this District carefully study and pursue innovative projects, like the Cadiz Project, as we work to expand our water supply portfolio and ensure reliable supplies for the 155,000 customers who rely on Santa Margarita Water District.”

The District received public comments on the DEIR and provided responses to those comments in the FEIR that was before the Board for certification today. The Board reviewed and certified the FEIR, confirming that the FEIR met the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Click here for more information on the Cadiz Project.

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