CAP officials look for future Arizona water solutions
U.S. Water News Online
TUCSON, Ariz. — The combined population of three of Arizona's most populous counties could double in 40 years and that has water experts dreaming up plans for the future.
One scenario could have three desalination plants on line by 2048 to increase the supply of Central Arizona Project water flowing to Phoenix and Tucson.
One plant could be removing salt from seawater along the Gulf of California in the Mexican state of Sonora — and its booty is shared by Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico — and two other plants may be treating salt-laden groundwater in the areas of Buckeye and Gila Bend.
Experts also hope a huge nuclear power plant may be in operation along the Gulf of California in Sonora, producing 600 megawatts of power to provide the juice for the adjoining seawater desalination plant.
And by 2048, construction could be underway to expand the size of the concrete CAP canal running from the Colorado River to Tucson to deliver up to 2.2 million acre-feet of water a year. Currently, the aqueduct can deliver 1.8 million-acre feet.
The three-county Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which oversees the CAP, is looking at how the state could furnish water to support a 2048 population of 11.5 million in Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties compared with less than six million today.
Thomas McCann, resource-planning manager for the conservation district, outlined some possible water solutions for 2048 at a conference in Phoenix on the future of Colorado River water.
Bob Cook, a planner and economist active in a Tucson environmental group, said the presentation ignored the rising costs of energy that already are causing crises in the airline and trucking industries.
“People will migrate to where the water is,” Cook said. “There's no real analysis here of the factors behind our population growth - cheap water, cheap land and cheap energy - and how they are changing.”
It's good that CAP officials are looking that far ahead, but “I didn't get a sense of the problems to be overcome, so we can do all the things to get us where we need to be,” said University of Arizona professor Karl Flessa, head of the geosciences department.
But the CAP's top official predicted that at least some of the ideas in McCann's vision would come to pass, although the agency has no formal blueprint for turning them into reality.
The prospect of desalination has in recent years gained more currency among water leaders in Arizona and the West as they try to deal with the twin pressures of population growth and drought that have kept flows in the river below normal for seven of the past 10 years.
State and Mexican officials have started preliminary talks on possibly building a plant along the Gulf of California.
The CAP agency has hired a consultant to explore the feasibility of desalinating salt-laden groundwater inside Arizona.
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