Amid the drought, Arizona will explore piping water from Mexico

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Arizona’s newly expanded Water Finance Board met three The Bar State Authority had no director. It hasn’t even called for a public water project to augment Arizona’s dwindling water supply. Colorado River.

But earlier this week the board suddenly faced a vote on whether to support a $5 billion project led by an Israeli company to build a plant in Mexico to desalinate seawater and pump it 200 miles across the border — and a national Through Monument — Alleviating State’s Water Crisis. Arizona and Mexico have been talking about removing salt from the waters of the Sea of ​​Cortez for years, but the plan was new to many and the rush for the state’s blessing in the waning days of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration worried some in the state.

“I’m sorry but this reeks of backroom deals,” state Sen. Lisa Otondo (D) told the board during its meeting on Tuesday.

The accelerating debate also reflects the urgency of the water crisis facing the American Southwest. The water level in the main reservoir is approx Dangerously low threshold – as Historic drought Stretching into its third decade — many officials want to import water into the Colorado River basin from elsewhere.

“The risk here obviously, in this case, outweighs the rush,” Andy Tobin, a member of the Water Finance Board and a former speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We are the people who exist The water is running out

IDE Technologies, an Israel-based company that developed Fertilization project Around the world, claims it can provide 1 million acre-feet of water oases Drought-dry state — About the same amount as what central and southern Arizona took from the Colorado River this year.

During a presentation to Arizona’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, two representatives of the developer and a Goldman Sachs official involved in financing the project presented their vision for the world’s largest desalination plant. Representatives said the project would be financed entirely by private money, but they wanted Arizona to commit to buying the water at an unspecified future price.

“We need a long-term commitment that when we deliver water to you, you buy it,” said Erez Hoter-Ishay, manager of the Arizona Water Project Solutions Team, as the IDE-led consortium is called. “As simple as that.”

On Tuesday, the Water Finance Board unanimously approved a non-binding resolution to continue studying the project.

The plant will be built near Puerto Peñasco on the Sea of ​​Cortez in the Mexican state of Sonora, IDE said. The roughly $5 billion first phase involves building a plant that siphons seawater and filters it through membranes to remove salt.

It would then be pumped north through a 200-mile pipeline, entering the United States at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. International Biosphere Reserve, before following a highway toward Maricopa County, where it joins canals serving Phoenix and Tucson. The first phase, a single pipeline, could carry about 300,000 acre-feet of water to Arizona and could be operational by 2027, with future pipes delivering up to 1 million acre-feet, IDE representatives said. One acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover an acre of land in one foot of water.

Environmental groups have raised concerns that the plant, which would pump brine into the Sea of ​​Cortez, could harm marine habitat and the pipeline could disrupt sensitive wilderness in the national monument.

Jennifer Martin, program manager for the Sierra Club of Arizona, told the board that the state should focus on water conservation, moving away from and reining in water-intensive crops like alfalfa. rapid growthInstead of shifting the environmental burden onto Mexico and future generations.

“The Sierra Club urges you to pause on this costly, energy-intensive and environmentally damaging proposal and not rush to 2022 and the waning days of the Ducey administration,” he said.

Arizona and Mexico have been discussing another potential desalination system for the past several years — one in which Arizona would pay for a plant across the border in exchange for taking a portion of Mexico’s allocation from the Colorado River, said Sarah Porter, Kyle’s director at Arizona State University. Center for Water Policy. Transboundary pipeline plans “a little out of left field.”

Porter said he’s not sure Arizona would have a market to buy such large amounts of water, even with the shortage Colorado River.

“We don’t need to run out and find another few hundred thousand or 500,000 acre feet of water,” he said. “It’s not at all clear that that level of demand will develop.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, some board members said they were surprised to be considering such a major infrastructure project after first hearing about it just days ago. The expanded board was created by legislation earlier this year to manage $1 billion in funding for projects to increase the state’s water supply. State Rep. Reginald Bolding (D), a nonvoting member of the board, questioned how IDE knew how to present its proposal to the board.

“We have not appointed an executive director or staff. As far as I know we have not made any call for proposals,” he said. “How did you know to put in a proposal for this deal before we built the board infrastructure?”

Hoter-Ishay said the company has been meeting with officials in Arizona and Mexico for more than three years to develop the project and wants the state’s commitment before starting a federal environmental review.

Earlier this year, Ducey visited an IDE desalination plant Inspection to Israel. State Representative Russell BowersArizona’s Republican speaker of the House of Representatives told the water board that he was aware of the project but had signed a nondisclosure agreement so he could not discuss it.

Ducey’s spokesman CJ Karamargin said the governor has been outspoken about the state’s water crisis and the urgent need to address it.

“Arizona is facing a water emergency. We are in dire straits,” he said.

Karamargin noted that an IDE is desalination the plant Carlsbad, Calif., has been supplying drinking water to San Diego County residents for years and said the green soccer field came in time for the Qatar World Cup. from the same technology.

“It’s not just water that’s a game changer. It’s a game-changing approach,” he said. “It’s really good news that a company with IDE’s track record is interested in coming in and taking it on.”

The project would require approval from both the United States and Mexico. The developer submitted a right-of-way application for the water pipeline to the Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday, starting what promises to be a lengthy environmental review process.

IDE’s presentation was vague about their water consumption. Hoter-Ishay cited some estimates from last year that put the cost of an acre-foot of water at $2,200 to $3,300 but emphasized that it’s “obviously a matter of engineering.” For 300,000 acre-feet of water, that range can amount to about $1 billion a year.

“Nobody can put a price on water,” Hoter-Ishay said. “When you don’t have water, you don’t grow, you don’t have life.”

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