Cadiz creates water out of thin air

April 9, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

Call it “thin water.” A small private company called Cadiz Inc. in Los Angeles is in the process of creating water in California’s Mojave Desert — like a magician, literally out of thin air.

By selling that water wholesale, water agencies will be able nearly to double the amount of water sold because of an administrative mechanism called an “Intentionally Created Surplus” as part of the Lower Colorado River Basin Operating Agreement.

ICS water will contribute toward avoiding the construction of new costly water-storage reservoirs anywhere in California, even though the new water “produced” will be in the Mojave Desert.

New Cadiz Plan Endorsed by Environmentalists

If this sounds too good to be true to environmental skeptics, it isn’t.  Cadiz Water’s plan to capture evaporation water losses has been endorsed by some of the most eminent conservationists, water scientists and engineers in the world.  And ICS credits have been in operation since 2007.

The Cadiz Company has many skeptics due to a failed proposal 10 years ago to sell Cadiz Valley groundwater to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.  Critics at that time believed that Cadiz would deplete the groundwater table and would destroy the desert ecology.  But Cadiz CEO Scott Slater says recently, “They learned from that process.”

Cadiz’s new water development concept is to capture downstream groundwater before it gets to desert dry lakebeds in the Cadiz Valley.  Nature uses dry lakebeds as evaporation ponds to allow groundwater to escape back into the atmosphere.  Thus, Cadiz will take water from no one, not even the environment.  It will take water from the ground before it evaporates into thin air.

Water Conservation Credits Double Water Supply

And through a novel new administrative process called an “Intentionally Created Surplus,” it will be able to sell water conservation credits to the MWD or its member agencies.  Under the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operationsfor Lake Powell and Lake Mead of 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will allow the MWD to store almost an equal amount of conserved water in Lake Mead.  Thus, conserved water will produce double the potential water supplies. As as long as low water capacity conditions prevail along the Colorado River, water storage system water can be stored in Lake Mead.

Former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water consultant Bob Johnson called ICS water a “huge breakthrough” that will mainly benefit Southern California water users.

Johnson says that prior to the creation of water conservation credits, the water in Lake Mead was held in common ownership by all the Lower Colorado River Basin states.  Water conservation credits have created a sort of water right within the common pool of water in Lake Mead. These water rights could disappear if greater rainfall eventually fills the reservoirs along the Colorado River system.

Johnson says an ICS water conservation credit is defined as a portion of any water conserved through farmland fallowing, lining of canals, increased system efficiency or other measures taken by Lower Basin users of the Colorado River that will result in new additional sources of water.  There is a cap on how much water surplus each Lower Basin Colorado River water user can store in Lake Mead.  Thus, there is a future risk of losing the surplus water parked in Lake Mead if high water conditions return.  But as long as low rainfall conditions prevail, there is potential water storage capacity in Lake Mead.

Categories of Water Conservation Credits

Lake Mead has four statutory priorities for storing water, in this order: flood control, water storage and hydropower.

Under the 2007 guidelines, there are four categories of ICS:

1. Tributary conservation: allows a water user to fallow water rights in tributaries of the Colorado River that were in use prior to the effective date of the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act and transport this water to the Colorado River for credit.  An example would be MWD fallowing 16,000 acres of farmland it owns in the Palo Verde Irrigation District along the Colorado River.

2. Groundwater-imported ICS: allows a Colorado River contract holder to convey non-Colorado River water to the Colorado River for credit. Cadiz’s plans to capture evaporative groundwater losses — or “thin water” — would fall into this category.

3.  System efficiency: allows a user to fund a system efficiency project that would conserve Colorado River water. The project must increase the amount of water in the United States and a portion of the saved water would be credited to the user funding the project.  The Drop 2 Storage Reservoir Project — also called the Brock Reservoir — will capture about 70,000 acre feet of water on average that is released from Lake Mead, but is no longer needed because of changed weather conditions.  The Drop 2 Storage Reservoir is located north of the All American Canal in Southern California and about 30 miles west of Yuma, Ariz.

4. Extraordinary conservation: Allows a water user to implement a project, such as land fallowing or canal lining, to conserve water through extraordinary measures, which would increase Lake Mead levels. Unlike other forms of ICS, extraordinary-conservation ICS is not available during declared shortages.  The Imperial Irrigation District plans to conserve 12,000 acre-feet of water for example by a main canal lining and seepage interception project.  Likewise, MWD is planning a water desalting facility that will save 56,300 acre-feet of water as part of its Palo Verde Irrigation District project.

Before the creation of ICS credits, Johnson says there was no incentive for Lower Basin users to conserve their water allocation.  It was a system of “use it or lose it.”  The new incentive system allows Lower Colorado River Basin users to now nearly double their water resources.

California Can Only Weather a Half-Year Drought

Colorado River water consultant Bob Johnson says that California “has the toughest water problems of all 17 western states.”  He pointed out that the ratio of average annual water flows to water storage on the Lower Colorado River system is about 4.0.  In other words, the Lower Colorado River has four years of storage and thus can weather a four-year drought.

The entire Colorado River system could withstand a 10-year drought according to Johnson.

Using rough numbers by comparison, Johnson said the flows-to-storage ratio for California’s State Water Project and the federally operated Central Valley Project is about 0.5.  Stated differently, California can only weather a drought for about half a year. On its own, the California State Water Project cannot manage a drought of nearly any duration.

This makes a three-to-five year drought unmanageable in California. It forces emergency conservation measures instead of water planning and management.  Thus, not only is more water storage in California needed, but the existing water system needs to be able to be managed more flexibly to make it more efficient.  ICS water credits go a long way to adding system flexibility and more efficient management of existing water supplies until more water storage can be added.

The new proposed Cadiz Water project will go one step further by creating a 100 percent multiplier effect of creating a new water supply from almost nothing.

California Voters Squandered Water Bonds

California voters have squandered about $18.7 billion in five water bonds since the year 2000, without creating any new significant water storage. (Propositions 12, 13, 40, 50 and 84.)  Most of that bond funding went to land acquisitions for open-space preservation.

A $11 billion water bond is scheduled to go before voters this November, called the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012.

It would provide for construction of two new water reservoirs, if they can withstand legal opposition by environmentalists. But the bond may be pulled from the ballot due to low voter support. Voters apparently are tired of paying for water bonds that are nothing more than expensive jobs programs for environmentalists. New opinion polls show voters are tiring of the Green Agenda.

If that’s the case, maybe the state finally can move on and solve its water problems with real solutions, as in the 1950s and 1960s. If not, then prepare for future droughts complete with much higher water prices, brown lawns, shuttered car washes, dirty cars and more national jokes about Californians’ incompetence.

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