U.S. Water News Online
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Environmentalists and water officials have
announced a plan to get a desalination plant near Yuma up and running
again without hurting a valuable marsh in Mexico's Colorado River
The 60-acre plant, which originally cost some $250 million, has
been bone dry for over a decade.
But persistent drought has led many water users in the United
States to advocate bringing the plant back to life so that Lake Mead
won't be further drained to meet treaty obligations with Mexico.
However, doing so threatens to destroy a 40,000-acre Colorado River
delta -- the Cienega de Santa Clara -- since its water supply would
likely be slashed.
Biologists say the cienega -- declared a biosphere reserve by
Mexico in 1993 -- has become a vital stopover for birds traveling the
"Pacific Flyway." It provides habitat for more than 95 bird species,
including the endangered Yuma clapper rail.
A 1944 treaty requires the United States to send Mexico about 10
percent of the Colorado's average flow.
The plant was built between 1975 and 1992 to meet that obligation.
Its design uses reverse osmosis to treat brackish water flowing off
Arizona's Wellton-Mohawk farming district. It then returns the
cleaner water to the Colorado and sends the reject stream of brine to
Mexico in a canal parallel to the river.
The new plan, which needs state and federal approval, calls for
pumping groundwater from waterlogged areas near Yuma to provide an
alternate supply to the delta. It also calls for using the
desalination plant to provide water to cities and businesses on
either side of the border.
The plan was drafted by four conservation groups as well as water
officials from the Central Arizona Project, the Arizona Department of
Water Resources, city of Yuma and Bureau of Reclamation.
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