By John Neville, contributing Sedona Times guest writer - Thanks to the wonderful work by Arizona Republic reporter Shaun McKinnon, many people do know that pumping water around this desert state uses enormous amounts of energy. The fact that the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is the single largest user of electricity in Arizona should not be a claim to fame. It should be a somewhat shameful confession.
The source of most of the electricity used by the CAP is the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station. Yes, that is the same plant that adds to the brown haze that sometimes obscures the views across the Grand Canyon. In addition, the plant uses 28,000 acre feet or 9,124,108,000 gallons of water each year. That’s more water than is used by a city of 165,000 people.
This same power station contributes tons of hazardous and global warming pollution to our atmosphere every year. So the fact that the EPA is seeking to improve the control systems on the power plant is a good thing for the health of everyone in the Southwest.
Now, despite the outrageous amount of energy needed by the CAP, the people of Arizona still pay some of the lowest prices for water in the country. According to a study by the Austin Water Utility, people living in the desert of Phoenix pay far less for water than people in Portland, Oregon, for example…where it has been known to rain quite a bit.
So, imagine my surprise when I read that the head of the CAP Board of Directors and a few others want Arizonans to try to discourage the EPA from their effort to reduce air pollution in order to keep the cost of water artificially low. I am still trying to understand the rationale for this request. Is it more important to maintain an outdated and wasteful means for transporting water across the desert or to try to protect human health and reduce our contributions to climate change?
Here, in Arizona, we are finally moving to reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels. The Arizona Corporation Commission and the utilities are encouraging conservation and the use of clean renewable energy sources.
We are doing this for two primary reasons. First, the use of fossil fuels is costly in terms of the damage their use causes to human health and the natural environment. In this particular situation, the very power plants that generate the electricity to move the water to Phoenix and Tucson contribute to the climate change that seriously threatens our water resources.
Over the past five years, the average temperatures in Arizona have risen 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature rise is impacting the snow falls in Northern Arizona. The shorter, drier winters are reducing the flows to the rivers and aquifers from which we draw our water. So, it is very much in the interest of all water utilities, including the CAP, to do whatever is necessary to eliminate the use of polluting coal-fired plants as their energy suppliers.
Second, conservation and renewable energy make economic sense. The costs of fossil fuels will continue to rise, while their use in energy production generates little real benefit to our economy. Meanwhile, the sun falling on one half of Maricopa County on any given day is enough to provide electricity to the entire USA. Yet we remain years behind other regions in the adoption of solar technologies; this despite the fact that Arizona has more days of sun than almost anywhere else.
If large energy users, such as the CAP, demanded that all of their energy come from clean, renewable resources, that would lead to a dramatic expansion solar, geothermal, wind and other beneficial energy sources. It would also lead to more green collar jobs in the state and help create a lasting economic recovery.
So, it would be prudent for CAP water customers and everyone in Arizona to send comments to the EPA about their proposed emission controls. It would also be good to contact our representatives in Washington, DC about the cap-and-trade legislation. They need to hear from us how important it is to reduce toxic and global warming pollution in all of our power plants. They need to understand that coal-fired power plants threaten our water resources. They need to know that we want a green economy with local, clean energy generation.
Meanwhile, if a rise in water rates by a few cents a gallon is a concern, try a little conservation. If every CAP customer reduced their water use to below 100 gallons per person per day, think of how much energy and money the CAP would save.
Navajo Generating Stations uses more than 9 billion gallons of water and emits nearly 20 million tons of greenhouse and toxic pollution each year to pump Colorado River water to central and southern Arizona.
John Neville is president of Sustainable Arizona and on the board of the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative for Coconino County.