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Saudi's Aquifer Role Criticized

Resources: Activists question the bid by a member of the Mideast nation's royal family to partner with Santa Monica firm Cadiz in a Mojave Desert storage project.

January 30, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Environmentalists opposed to a massive water storage and retrieval project in the Mojave Desert criticized Tuesday a proposed partnership between a California company involved in the project and a member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

The California office of Public Citizen, a group founded by Ralph Nader, said the proposed deal between Santa Monica-based Cadiz Inc. and a firm controlled by Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud shows that Cadiz is on shaky financial ground.

Under the partnership deal, the Saudis would buy a share of Cadiz's agricultural business, which would provide an influx of capital.

Cadiz hopes to sign a multi-decade agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to sell water from an aquifer in in eastern San Bernardino County for use in the six counties served by the district. The aquifer, beneath federal land leased by Cadiz, would also store excess water from the Colorado River.

Among the environmentalists' concerns are fears that Cadiz could go bankrupt, shifting the financial burden to taxpayers and possibly leaving environmental damage unrepaired. Cadiz officials have denied that the company is in financial trouble.

Now being reviewed by various regulatory agencies, the proposed Cadiz-MWD deal has not yet been approved by the water district board of directors.

Adan Ortega, executive assistant to water district General Manager Ronald Gastelum, declined to speculate on whether Saudi involvement would influence the board's decision on the aquifer deal.

Al Waleed, a nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, is a major investor in U.S. corporations and is listed by Forbes magazine as the world's sixth-richest person, with $20 billion in assets.

But in October, he was snared in controversy after New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani returned $10 million the prince had donated for the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Giuliani was angered by Al Waleed's suggestion that the United States "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

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