July 18, 2012 3:44 PM
Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times (MCT)
The company that wants to pump large amounts of Mojave Desert groundwater and sell it for a profit to Southern California suburbs has run into opposition from an unexpected quarter: an international corporation that runs industrial salt operations next door to the proposed project.
Texas-based Tetra Technologies Inc., an oil and gas services enterprise, has come out swinging at Cadiz Inc.’s pumping plans, filing two lawsuits, mounting a public relations campaign and dismissing the water project’s environmental review as a sham designed to escape serious scrutiny.
“There are so many games that they’ve played to make this thing ‘work,’” said Robert Bower, a partner in the California law firm of Rutan & Tucker, which is representing Tetra.
The project would annually withdraw enough Mojave groundwater to supply 100,000 homes and sell it to urban Southern California at prices that could earn Cadiz $1 billion to $2 billion in revenue over a 50-year period. A long-held dream of British-born entrepreneur Keith Brackpool, the proposal has stirred concern that it would harm surrounding public lands and open California’s desert aquifers, a public resource, to unprecedented water exports by private interests.
In Tetra, opponents have a deep-pocketed ally, a corporation with operations on six continents that is the world’s largest producer of calcium chloride, a salt that is used in oil and gas production, water treatment, food processing and road maintenance — and that has for a century been commercially extracted from the aquifer system Cadiz wants to tap.
Tetra’s Superior Court lawsuits, filed against San Bernardino County and the Santa Margarita Water District, also name Cadiz as a party. The actions challenge the project’s review under state environmental law and an agreement Cadiz struck with the county that exempted the project from the county’s groundwater ordinance while setting certain conditions on the pumping. Tetra argues that the county should have taken the lead in reviewing the project instead of the Orange County Water District, which has signed an option to buy the largest share of Cadiz water.
San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert called Tetra’s legal action “misguided and without merit.” The county has said previously that it retained authority over the pumping because Cadiz has agreed that its monitoring and management plan requires the final approval of the board of supervisors. But that accord has also been questioned by Tetra, which contends it effectively gives free rein to Cadiz.
The Santa Margarita Water District has scheduled a public hearing for July 25, when its board is expected to approve the project.