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Public Citizen Calls on Babbitt, Villaraigosa to Oppose Controversial Water Project

March 20, 2002

Public Citizen Calls on Babbitt, Villaraigosa to
Oppose Controversial Water Project

Cadiz Hired the Two Prominent Politicians to Help Push Water Project Through

OAKLAND, Calif. — Public Citizen today called on two prominent politicians recently hired by a California water developer to denounce the company’s controversial water project.

In separate letters, Public Citizen asked former U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa to oppose Cadiz Inc.?s storage and groundwater mining project in the Mojave Desert.

Cadiz recently added the two high-profile former politicians as it struggles to obtain federal approval for the project, which is key to the company?s survival. Babbitt, a former Arizona governor, was hired to head a Middle East subsidiary of Cadiz. Villaraigosa?s role as a consultant for the company appears to be limited to lobbying for support for the project. Villaraigosa enjoyed widespread support from many environmentalists in his recent Los Angeles mayoral bid.

Cadiz is seeking approval for the project from, among other agencies, the Interior Department. The massive enterprise calls for storing Colorado River water in an underground aquifer during wet years and using this and native groundwater to supplement supplies during dry years. The Cadiz project has been opposed by environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club.

“By hiring Mr. Babbitt and Mr. Villaraigosa, Cadiz is attempting to give a patina of respectability to this project and company,” said Jane Kelly, director of Public Citizen?s California office. “Although Mr. Babbitt claims he will work solely on Middle East projects, we find it hard to believe he won?t pick up the phone and contact his former colleagues to help Cadiz out.”

The hirings come on the heels of an announced bailout from a member of the Saudi royal family that will be indispensable in Cadiz?s efforts to stay out of red ink ? a goal that the firm has not been able to achieve for years. In January, the firm announced a pending deal to sell 49.75 percent of its wholly owned subsidiary, Sun World International, to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud. (It was this prince?s $10 million contribution for post-Sept. 11 reconstruction that was rejected by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.)

Cadiz is on shaky financial footing; documents show the company has significantly more debt than assets. According to The New York Times, Cadiz lost $22.5 million in 2000 and $17 million in the first nine months of last year.

Babbitt also was a chief architect of the Clinton administration?s plan to reduce California?s take of Colorado River water from 5.5 to 4.4 million acre-feet by 2015. That planned reduction is one reason the metropolitan water district has had to consider the Cadiz water project.

Cadiz owns land atop an aquifer in the Mojave Desert and could sell as much as 20 billion gallons a year. Environmental groups, members of the scientific community and Public Citizen oppose the Cadiz project on grounds that the rates of water extraction that Cadiz has determined necessary for profitability are unsustainable and therefore not in the public?s interest. In particular, the project threatens to deplete the aquifer underlying the Mojave National Preserve and several federal wilderness areas, causing massive dust storms, drying out mountain springs and further imperiling the threatened desert tortoise and other sensitive species.

It would be much better for officials to pursue conservation and water efficiency, Kelly said. Also, there are water storage projects that don?t require pulling water from the ground.

Added Diego Valencia, an organizer for Public Citizen, “With the recent addition of these two politicos, the battle over Cadiz is truly becoming one of big names versus the people.”

Read the letter to Babbitt. Read the letter to Villaraigosa.