(Oct. 15) LOS ANGELES — A plan by Cadiz Inc. to store water under desert land it owns for use in dry years, has been shelved after the board of the Metropolitan Water District, a partner in the project, voted Oct. 7 not to proceed with the plan.

The board decided timing of the project was wrong because drought has dramatically reduced water levels along the Colorado River, which would supply some of the water stored in the underground basin.

Santa Monica-based Cadiz had been awaiting final approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior on the massive water storage project that was designed to provide a backup water supply for Southern California in dry years.

It would also have indirectly help farmers by reducing the need to cut water for agriculture when residential supplies run short, said Mike Aiton, senior vice president of sales for Sun World International Inc., Bakersfield, an agricultural subsidiary of Cadiz.

50-YEAR PLAN

Under the plan, Cadiz Inc. would earn $500 million to $1 billion over the 50-year life of the project plan. Some of the money earned was to be from selling as much as 1.5 million acre-feet of ground water already present in the underground aquifer.

Aiton said the project, which would have included storage of indigenous groundwater and water from the Colorado River Aqueduct stored under 27,000 acres of Cadiz property in eastern San Bernardino County, received widespread support from regulatory agencies. A final environmental impact report on the project was issued in September of 2001.

However, the project also had many obstacles.

The project would have cost between $125 million and $150 million, and it was dependent on an Interior Department appropriations bill to cover administrative costs.

On June 28, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., inserted language in the bill to prohibit the department from spending funds on the Cadiz project during fiscal 2003, which begins in October.

Feinstein expressed concerns about the project’s groundwater monitoring and management plan.

TOO RISKY

In voting against the project, Metropolitan Water District board member Timothy Brick said the project represents more risk than reliability. Board member Jim Blake called the project a bad business deal.

But board member Wesley Bannister said consumers will need water the project could have provided.

The plan was to construct a 35-mile pipeline to bring water from Metropolitan Water District’s Colorado River Aqueduct to the storage site in the eastern Mojave Desert. Water extraction wells also were needed.

Once the pipeline was completed, Metropolitan was to store between 500,000 acre-feet and 1 million acre-feet of water beneath Cadiz’ agricultural land holdings in the California desert. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, which would cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot and supply two average families with water for a year.

Cadiz was to benefit from receiving payments from Metropolitan for indigenous groundwater. The base rate for the water is $230 an acre foot, which will be adjusted according to a water price index.

Metropolitan also would have paid Cadiz fees for water storage in the basin.

The groundwater basin contains about 20 million acre-feet of high quality indigenous groundwater. The agreement called for Metropolitan to purchase 1.1 million acre-feet of that water for transfer during dry years.