• Steve Brown

Study shows Cadiz water project would threaten spring in national monument

A study published in The Journal of Environmental Forensics shows the largest spring in the southeastern Mojave Desert, Bonanza Spring, would be threatened by the proposed Cadiz Inc. groundwater pumping project.

Bonanza Spring, in the Mojave Trails National Monument, would be threatened by the Cadiz water project, according to a newly published study. Photo courtesy the BLM.

Cadiz Inc. has proposed selling groundwater from the Fenner Basin, where there company owns 34,000 acres, inside the Mojave Trails National Monument, and has grown a variety of crops on a portion of that land. The company wants to pump 16.3 billion gallons of water annually (for 50 years) from the aquifer there to sell to Orange County.

The company has insisted pumping this amount of water will have no impact on springs in the eastern Mojave Desert, claiming they are not fed by groundwater. But a recent peer-reviewed study shows that water from Bonanza Spring - the only wetland of its kind within 1,000 square miles, according to the Mojave Desert Land Trust, is fed by regional groundwater. Data from the study, titled "Understanding the source of water for selected springs within Mojave Trails National Monument, California," shows the spring's water comes from the same aquifer Cadiz plans to pump.

"The source of spring flow at Bonanza Spring was evaluated through an integration of published geologic maps, measured groundwater levels, water quality chemistry, and isotope data compiled from both published sources and new samples collected for water chemistry and isotopic composition," the study's abstract noted. "The results indicate that Bonanza Spring has a regional water source, in hydraulic communication with basin fill aquifer systems."

The study notes that other springs are locally sourced, "perched" springs, not connected to the larger aquifer Cadiz intends to pump and sell. But the impact of losing a large spring such as Bonanza Spring, would be extremely harmful for plants and wildlife dependent upon the spring as a water source.

Bonanza Spring is an approximately half-mile area of green, tucked into a "beautiful, small canyon," according to the BLM, which has designated the spring as a Watchable Wildlife Area. "This is one of the few natural watering areas for wildlife within the Mojave Desert," the BLM noted, encouraging human visitors to minimize their stays near the water, in order to not impact wildlife coming to the spring.

A coyote enjoying Bonanza Spring. Photo courtesy of the BLM.

Concerns by wildlife biologists and organizations such as the National Parks Conservation Association about the proposed Cadiz water pumping project, are that a number of springs in the region would likely dry up as the water table drops. Cadiz has asserted this will not happen, but if it did, desert wildlife and plants, dependent upon the water of the springs, could pay the price with their lives. Bonanza Spring is lined with cottonwoods, reeds, and mesquite, and provides life-sustaining water to desert bighorn sheep, migratory birds, insects, and other wildlife. As it is connected with the aquifer Cadiz seeks to pump and sell to Orange County, its loss would have a substantial impact upon the region.

“This peer-reviewed report draws a line under the various arguments about the environmental impact of this project," noted Frazier Haney, Director of Land Conservation for the Mojave Desert Land Trust. "It clearly shows that Bonanza Spring is fed by the same groundwater that the Cadiz Inc project proposes to extract from the area. This confirms a threat to one of the most intact ecosystems in the US. Not only would the Cadiz Inc project cause irreparable damage to the environment and remove the only wetland of its kind within the southeastern Mojave, it would also be a blow to the local community in the Cadiz Valley. In our work with local landowners and businesses, we hear time and again how people are concerned about the environmental impact of the proposed Cadiz Inc project.”

Others echo Haney's concerns about the likely impact of Cadiz.

“These springs are so critically important to desert biodiversity – including a wide range of wildlife that is resilient but extraordinarily fragile – that a drop in water levels of even a foot can imperil entire water dependent ecosystems," said Sophie Parker, Senior Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, the organization which helped commission the first modern, comprehensive spring survey in the Mojave Desert, in cooperation with the BLM and the Transition Habitat Conservancy.

“For our organization and area tribes, the Cadiz Inc project is not about water conservation. Cadiz Inc.’s aggressive pumping would remove an average of 50,000-acre feet over a 50-year period …" explained Michael J. Madrigal, President of the Native American Lands Conservancy. "The NALC expresses its full opposition to the Cadiz project and commits its full effort to protecting tribal culture and preserving sacred lands. We welcome the new scientific and peer-reviewed study published in the Journal for Environmental Forensics as it highlights the true nature of the springs in the Cadiz area, and supports what our organization has known all along, that this project will cause irreversible harm. Today, just as they did hundreds of years ago, tribal people depend on the resources of the area – its wildlife, plants and water for their cultural survival.”

Migratory birds are dependent upon springs like Bonanza Spring. Photo courtesy of BLM.

Unlike the area's perched (local) springs, Bonanza Spring has exhibited a relatively steady flow, documented back to 1929, contrasting with other local springs that appear to have a more seasonal flow. This connection with the aquifer proposed for pumping by Cadiz, means it is more vulnerable to pumping impacts than smaller, local springs, and for a significant length of time.

"Based on the existing source characterization of Bonanza Spring, a reduction in groundwater level could result in an uncertain, but potentially substantial decrease in free-flowing water from the spring source," the report noted. "[E]xpansion of a cone of depression in areas of substantial pumping, and limited recharge, can occur for periods long after pumping ceases (100 years or more). This is due to the continued drawing in of more distant groundwater to infill the recovering cone of depression."

As most desert residents can tell you, pumping groundwater drops the water table. Many communities in overdraft, using more water than is being recharged to the aquifer, have dealt with this for years. Cadiz claims its pumping will not impact springs like Bonanza Spring, but past studies, science, and observation of other pumping operations across the desert and elsewhere, contradict those claims.

The multiple-methodology study was conducted for the Mojave Desert Land Trust by Partner Engineering and Science Inc, a national engineering and environmental consulting firm, and was subsequently updated by the authors and submitted to The Journal of Environmental Forensics for blind-peer review and publication.

Learn More

Information from the Mojave Desert Land Trust:

Bonanza Spring Watchable Wildlife Area BLM Page:

The Journal of Environmental Forensics Study Page:

Bonanza Spring Fact Sheet:

Study Highlights:

Chemehuevi Indian Tribe Statement of Opposition to Cadiz:

Native American Land Conservancy Statement of Opposition to Cadiz:

The Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians Statement of Opposition to Cadiz:

Mojave Project and The Trouble with Cadiz:

The Mojave Desert Blog on Cadiz:

Mojave National Preserve Conservancy on Cadiz:

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