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Rep. Lewis Opposes Cadiz Plan

Water: The Redlands congressman cites ecological concerns in urging the MWD to drop the Mojave Desert storage project.

September 06, 2002|MICHAEL A. HILTZIK, | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Adding to the chorus of environmental opposition to the Cadiz water storage project, U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) has urged the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to reject the $150-million program on grounds that it might threaten the delicate ecology of the Mojave Desert.

In a letter to MWD Chairman Philip J. Pace, Lewis, whose district includes the site of the proposed project, noted its "possible impact on desert wildlife and the nearby Mojave National Preserve" and said "it is not in the best interest of your Southern California customers to become dependent on desert ground water."

The MWD board is likely to vote sometime in the next few months on whether to go forward with the 50-year program, which it would jointly fund with Cadiz Inc., a Santa Monica company whose chairman and chief executive, Keith Brackpool, is a prominent financial supporter of Gov. Gray Davis and an advisor to Davis on water supply issues.

Cadiz said through a spokesman that the issues Lewis raised have been examined by a range of federal environmental agencies, whose review "culminated with the issuance of the final federal environmental approval last week.... We look forward to working with Congressman Lewis to address his concerns and begin moving forward on this critical program for the future of California's water."

Although Lewis said in an interview Thursday that he shared concerns about this region's looming shortage of water--which exists in part because of scheduled cutbacks in supply from the Colorado River--"I'm a long way away from signing off on this project."

Cadiz aims to store up to 1.5 million acre-feet of surplus water from the Colorado River in the sands under company land in the desert northeast of Palm Springs, extracting it via a 35-mile pipeline for use by MWD customers in dry years. (One acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve two families for one year.)

Environmental opposition has focused on a second component of the program: the extraction of up to an additional 1.5 million acre-feet from an existing natural aquifer under the property, which opponents say could lead to contamination of surrounding water supplies by draining more water than is naturally replenished.

Lewis' letter, which was dated Aug. 30, came the day after the Interior Department gave its final environmental approval to the project.

The department, which controls the land over which the pipeline would run, endorsed a plan to monitor the condition of the aquifer via $2.8 million worth of testing wells.

But Lewis said that as long as scientific disagreement exists about the safe level of extraction of desert ground water, "I came to the conclusion that we ought to move with great caution."

Lewis' position mirrors that of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has asked the MWD to reject the project and introduced legislation that would bar the Interior Department from spending money on permits for the Cadiz program after Oct. 1.

Feinstein has said the legislation is designed to stop the project until the Interior Department "has taken all the necessary measures" to ensure that the Mojave water supply will not be compromised.

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