News Feature | March 30, 2022

With Critical Source Water At All-Time Low, Arizona Explores Ambitious Desalination Plan

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


Growing water scarcity throughout the U.S. is prompting creative and expensive solutions from a range of states, including a rise in “cash for grass” incentives, a multi-billion dollar effort in Los Angeles, and multiple interstate legal clashes.

Now, as a critical source-water body hits historic lows, Arizona is exploring more unique solutions.

“Last week, for the first time since it was filled 50 years ago, the water level in Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, dropped so low that it threatens the ability of Glen Canyon Dam to generate electricity for some 6 million customers that depend on it,” according to Inside Climate News. “The most ambitious proposal to slake the region’s growing thirst as its most critical reservoirs decline is to build two desalination plants in Puerto Penasco, a Mexican city more than 60 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border.”

The idea of establishing desalination operations in Mexico stems from a proposed $1.6 billion slate of projects from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. The plants would remove salt from ocean water, then deliver the effluent to the Morelos Dam, where Colorado River water is distributed to Mexico. With that additional source water going to Mexico, more of the Colorado River’s influent could be utilized for Arizona.

Desalination is a relatively expensive and high-energy practice, though it may be increasingly needed as source water dwindles throughout the country. Perhaps the most innovative and surprising aspect of the proposal is the notion of working so directly with another country to address drought in a U.S. state.

However, warm ties between the two countries make Ducey optimistic such a plan could be successful.

“That relationship [with Mexico] is at an all-time high,” Ducey explained, per Chamber Business News. “We wouldn’t be having the discussions that we’re having now on what’s possible with Mexico on desalination, otherwise.”

Ultimately, a range of creative and expensive solutions will be needed for the country’s water managers to cope with shrinking source water and growing demand. Innovative proposals like this one will almost certainly continue to pop up.

“Policymakers understand that addressing water security in the region is complex and calls for a ‘suite of options,’” according to Inside Climate News.

To read more about how water systems around the country combat drought, visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.