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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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Jennifer Auther: California's proposal to buy aquifer water raises questions


CNN Correspondent Jennifer Auther reports from California on a proposal that would allow water-poor Southern California to buy water from a private source and lessen its dependence on the Colorado River, which provides water for several states in the region.

Q: Why is Southern California being forced into buying water?

AUTHER: California is allotted 4.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River but has been using as much as 5.2 million a year, using other states' surplus. [An acre-foot of water, 43,560 cubic feet, is the amount that would cover one acre to a depth of one foot].

Well, those other states are growing and they can't spare the water any longer. California officials have known that they were going to have to find a way to be more self-reliant, that they were going to have to stop taking water that wasn't legally theirs.

Q: Are there similar arrangements -- states buying water from other entities -- in other parts of the country?

AUTHER: There are, but none of this size -- they're talking about buying 47 billion gallons of water a year. Cadiz Inc. is a financially struggling company that owns land the size of Rhode Island in the Mojave Desert over a huge aquifer. And its stock has taken off since this deal was announced.

Q: Are there alternatives?

AUTHER: They're talking about relining canals to prevent water leaking out, conservation programs, reclamation, treating brackish water -- but this one is the one that has caught all the ink.

Q: Are there opponents?

AUTHER: Environmentalists have a concern that this (aquifer) plan would jeopardize the desert's fragile ecosystem. They argue that while this plan calls for monitors to ensure that the water table in the desert doesn't fall too low, there are no provisions for what will be done if the monitors signal a problem.

Q: What's the outlook? Have the problems California's had with the deregulation of its electric utilities had any effect on this proposal?

AUTHER: It's definitely become a tougher sell for California rate payers. They're saying that they heard the same thing -- that privatizing a utility will solve problems -- in 1996 (when California's State Assembly voted to deregulate the electricity industry).

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Cadiz Inc. -- Water and Agricultural Resources

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