Outtake No. 2
Charlie describes the Yuma Desalination Plant and Early History of the Colorado River.
It was considered to be the largest reverse-osmosis water treatment facility in the world at the time. It could desalinate 72 million gallons of Colorado River water per day. But it stopped operating because of successful efforts upstream to reduce salt inflows into the river. After floods washed away
one of the diversion canals in 1992, the Bureau of Reclamation mothballed the plant, just nine months after turning it on. A Series of wet years rendered it unnecessary.
There’s a very interesting environmental twist to the whole issue of operating the plant. Early history tells us that before all the dams were built, the Colorado River delta in Mexico extended over two million acres, an area almost the size of Rhode Island, rich with nutrients brought downriver with tons of silt. In 1922, the conservationist Aldo Leopold and his brother explored the Colorado River delta by canoe. Leopold exulted in ‘all the wealth of fowl and fish . . .in this milk-and-honey wilderness’ as his canoe wove through winding waterways and green lagoons. The two subsisted on quail and geese they harvested. Beaver, deer, and jaguar flourished, while shrimp and the totoaba migrated from the upper Gulf of California to spawn in the delta’s brackish waters. Millions of waterfowl and shorebirds could be seen circling, then descending to feed and rest in the lagoon. Leopold’s essay, “The Green Lagoon,” in his book A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, gives a description of the delta as it was then. The area is called Cienega de Santa Clara.”
“But that has all changed,” Scott muses. “Progress, they say. Sometimes I wonder.”
Charlie continues, saying that bringing the plant back on line, so that lake Mead would not be further drained to meet treaty obligations with Mexico, threatened to destroy the 40,000-acre Colorado River delta, since its water supply would likely be slashed.
The plant was started up again in 2007 to do some testing to determine if it could be made to be a viable source of water for Arizona, but accounts of the test seemed to disappear, so we don’t exactly know what happened. The plant was dismantled and shipped to China after the nuclear waste disaster up-river. It had been off-line, so river flow was diverted around it, avoiding nuclear contamination.”
Steve LaRue, San Diego Union-Tribune, “Technology on Tap,” April 22, 1998, [page#].
“Restart of Yuma desalting plant will test operation, water uses,” US Water News Online, February 2007, accessed [date], http://www.uswaternews.com/archives/arcconserv/7restofxx2.html.
Aldo Leopold, “The Green Lagoon,” in A Sand County Almanac, (Oxford University Press, 1949), 150-158, accessed [date], http://eebweb.arizona.edu/faculty/Bonine/Leopold1949_GreenLagoons-150-158.pdf.
“Plans announced to restart desalinization plant near Yuma,” US Water News Online, May 2005, accessed [date], http://www.uswaternews.com/archives/arcsupply/5plananno5.html.
Joel T. Cohen, How Many People Can the Earth Support?, (New York: Norton, 1995), [page#].