Monday, January 2, 2012

Socks & Champagne


A new study shows the aquifer under the Mojave Desert, an environmentally sensitive area, has more water than Nevada’s Lake Mead, enough water to supply 400,000 people. And, the land above this aqua-trove is owned by a private company, Cadiz Inc., which has announced ambitious plans to mine it.

A study conducted by engineering company CH2M Hill shows the aquifer under the Mojave ranges in size from 17 million to 34 million acre-feet, according to a report Feb. 8 in Bloomberg News by Daniel Taub (dtaub@bloomberg.net).

“It’s as close to a lake as you’re going to find in sub-surface geology,” Scott Slater, general counsel for Los Angeles-based Cadiz, told Taub in an interview. “I don’t think there’s new water like this anywhere.”

Cadiz owns about 70 square miles of desert in eastern San Bernardino County and the company wants to mine the water and send it through yet-to-be-built pipelines to thirsty Southern Californians. Cadiz Inc. was founded in 1983 by British-born entrepreneur Keith Brackpool, whose name has popped up from time to time in Sacramento political circles.

With the price of wholesale water going for as much as $1,000 an acre-foot, and the Mojave aquifer promising to yield as much as 50,000 acre-feet a year, Cadiz could break out the champagne and Brackpool (nothing ironic in the name?) could start running dollars through his toes like so much sand.

But, even though Cadiz’s project has gotten a nod from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, isn’t so sure. There are still a lot of hurdles for this scheme before it becomes bath water.


Cadiz said it would replenish the aquifer by adding rainwater and injecting “melted snowpack from the New York Mountains.” In the heart of the Mojave National Preserve, the New York range soars to about 7,500 feet. The area is remote, without many established trails and it attracts few visitors.

Geologists estimate the mountains, largely granite, are as old as 1 billion years. The lower elevations are dotted with oaks and white firs. Chaparral ringed Caruthers Canyon has a stream that in-season rumbles through boulders and cataracts.

To get to this remote area, those interested in seeing the area that's the source of this new water supply should check online for maps and routes, prepare for harsh conditions and set out for Ivanpah, site of an ghost town. It's located near the Nevada border.

I once got stuck in quicksand out that way as I walked along a dry stretch of the Mojave River. Luckily a friend pulled me out, but the sand sucked off my boot. Had to walk all the way back to the truck with only a wet sock on one foot.

I greet the announcement about developing a vast cache of water under the Mojave with mixed socks. We need the water here in California, but the rugged desert is deceptively fragile. I worry about unbridled profit taking like I worry about rattlesnakes and quicksand.

If you go to the Mojave, a place of mystery and beauty, remember that summer temps can top 120 F. Be careful, bring an extra pair of socks and don't forget the champagne.

Source: Bloomberg News