After a marathon meeting that garnered comments from 100 supporters and opponents this week, the Santa Margarita Water District put off a decision on a proposal to build a new pipeline to connect to the Colorado River Aqueduct.
The water district will revisit the issue at another meeting on Tuesday. If the board approves the Environmental Impact Report for the project, it would pave the way for the pipeline to be built. Proponents hope the project could provide a secondary source of water for Rancho Santa Margarita and Mission Viejo residents, a move that could help reduce costs. However, opponents of the project, who are centered in the Mojave Desert area, contend the pipeline would threaten their water supply and the desert ecosystem by pumping and transporting their groundwater to Orange County.
“This vote is an important step to move forward,” said Michelle Miller, spokeswoman for the Santa Margarita Water District. “In south Orange County, we don’t have a natural source of water. We are very dependent on imported water.”
The Cadiz Company, which owns 45,000 acres of inland California, intends to build a 42-mile pipeline to connect to the Colorado River Aqueduct, and use that canal to transport desert water to customers in the Pomona area and southernmost Orange County including Rancho Santa Margarita.
The company also proposes to install pumps that can take Colorado River water from the aqueduct in surplus years, and store it underground for reclamation in dry years. The water would be an additional supply for wholesale water agencies that sell water to utilities in eastern Los Angeles County.
“It could actually help stabilize rates when we aren’t so dependent on the Metropolitan Water District as our only supply,” added Miller.
In addition to the Cadiz project, the water district is also open to other alternative water sources including buying water from new desalination plants, said Miller.
Currently, south county communities such as Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita get more than 80 percent of their water supply from MWD. In recent years, MWD rates have climbed by 75 percent, Miller said. The average Santa Margarita Water District customers pays about $60.54, she said.
Cadiz currently uses water harvested beneath Cadiz and Bristol dry lakes as irrigation water on lemons and grapes. That water fell as rain tens of thousands of years ago, and environmentalists contend pumping it will harm the desert.
Cadiz contends the project will not harm the desert, will create hundreds of jobs, and will provide a necessary underground water bank for droughts.
Tuesday’s board meeting is at 6 p.m. at the , 26111 Antonio Parkway.