Yuma Desalting Plant Test-Run Marks Historic Accord

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Unlikely Allies Take Another Step to Protect Environment, Meet Water Needs

(YUMA, Ariz.) Today’s U.S. Bureau of Reclamation kick-off of the Yuma Desalting Plant’s demonstration run commemorates the successful partnership of Arizona water agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation, and environmentalists.

This partnership, known as the Yuma Desalting Plant/Cienega de Santa Clara Workgroup, developed a set of recommendations for meeting users’ water needs while protecting the environment.

“This historic accord offered a critical roadmap for moving beyond the acrimony that previously clouded discussions about the Yuma Desalting Plant,” said Michael Cohen, Senior Associate with the Pacific Institute. “Sid Wilson of the Central Arizona Project deserves great credit for making this happen.”

The Workgroup’s recommended set of actions includes pilot forbearance programs, water quality research and monitoring at the Cienega. “The Workgroup’s recommended policies are a package and need to move forward together,” noted Pat Graham, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Arizona. “The Central Arizona Project has stepped up and funded monitoring at the Cienega, so now we’ll have a better understanding of the impacts of operating the Yuma Desalting Plant.”

Forbearance, in which Colorado River contractors agree not to order a specified volume of water in exchange for payment, enables Reclamation to offset its legal obligation to replace the volume of salty drainage water discharged to the Cienega. Last year, Reclamation successfully negotiated a pilot forbearance agreement with a California contractor, at $170/acre-foot. “We urge Reclamation to continue this successful program,” noted Jennifer Pitt, Senior Policy Analyst with Environmental Defense. “Congress should appropriate additional funds so that Reclamation has the flexibility to conserve water during drought when it is most needed.”

“The Yuma Desalting Plant could play an important role in meeting local water needs in the future,” said Peter Culp, a Phoenix water attorney representing the Sonoran Institute. “The opportunity to use treated water as a clean, safe municipal water supply for border communities is tremendous, and could help people in both the United States and Mexico. However, it is important that Reclamation honor the compromises that have made the operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant possible by continuing to give consideration to the full range of workgroup recommendations.”

In 2007, the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security celebrates twenty years of providing research for people and the planet. Founded in 1987 and based in downtown Oakland, the Institute provides independent research and policy analysis on issues at the intersection of protecting the natural world, encouraging sustainable development, and improving global security.