U.S. House Moves To Spend Millions On White Elephant

Defenders of Wildlife | Environmental Defense | National Wildlife Federation | Pacific Institute | Sierra Club

Michael Cohen 720-564-0651
Jennifer Pitt 303-440-4901
Kara Gillon 505-248-0118
Steve Glazer 970 349-6646

U.S. House Moves To Spend Millions On White Elephant

Yuma, Ariz. Desalting Plant Restart Will Cost Millions, Harm Wetlands

July 17, 2003, Oakland, CA: Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will consider the Energy and Water Appropriations for FY04. A last-minute change will require the Bureau of Reclamation to fix and operate the outdated Yuma (Arizona) Desalting Plant.

The Plant, completed in 1992, was built to clean up salty drainage water from farms in southern Arizona, but was run only for a few months because of extremely high operational costs and many problems at the plant. Now, despite recent projections of the largest budget deficit in history, some Congressmen are trying to revive this white elephant, requiring that millions be spent on updating the plant’s technology. But even the most current upgrade cannot make the plant cost effective. The Plant uses old, inefficient technology – it was a waste of taxpayer money when it was built for $256 million, and operating it today would cost $35 million annually.

Michael Cohen, a senior associate at the Pacific Institute, said that, “The Yuma Desalting Plant is a huge waste of money. Throwing more money at the Plant will just flush tens of millions of dollars down the drain every year.” “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars, Congress should encourage farmers to participate in voluntary water-leasing programs,” he added.

Jennifer Pitt, a senior policy analyst at Environmental Defense, said, “The Department of the Interior has already proposed an alternative that could save $30,000,000 every year. Not only does Interior’s alternative have great economic advantages, it will also save enough electricity to supply 25,000 people every year.” Interior’s alternative is a non-regulatory, market-based approach that will pay farmers for water they do not need, without creating lasting community impacts.

Kara Gillon, water counsel with Defenders of Wildlife, noted that “Running the Yuma Desalting Plant would quickly destroy a 40,000 acre wetland that currently sustains migratory birds and several endangered species.” “It will be impossible to replace the value of the Cienega de Santa Clara to the Colorado River ecosystem,” she added.

Steve Glazer, chair of the Sierra Club’s Colorado River Task Force, said, “The Cienega supports the largest known population of endangered Yuma Clapper Rails. Destroying that habitat, and ripping off the taxpayers to do it, just adds insult to injury.”

“There are cheaper and less destructive ways to save water then running the Yuma Desalting Plant,” added Myra Wilensky, regional organizer at the National Wildlife Federation.