Mexico’s newest export to US: Water

Mexico imports many items to the U.S. including televisions, cars, sugar and medical equipment. Soon, it may be sending water north of the border.

Western states are looking to move south, about 15 miles below San Diego, to Playas de Rosarito for water to fill drinking glasses, flush toilets and sprinkle lawns. Four major U.S. water districts are planning one of two huge desalination plant proposals. Combined, they would produce 150 million gallons a day, enough to supply more than 300,000 homes on both sides of the border.

The plants are one strategy by both countries to wean themselves from the drought-prone Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez. There are concerns though that American water interests are looking to Mexico in an attempt to circumvent U.S. environmental reviews and legal challenges.

Dozens of proposals are on the drawing board in the United States to address water scarcity but the only big project to recently win regulators’ blessings would produce 50 million gallons a day in Carlsbad, near San Diego. A smaller plant was approved last year in Monterey, some 110 miles south of San Francisco.

Mexico is relatively new to desalination. Its largest plant supplies 5 million gallons a day in the Baja California resort town of Cabo San Lucas, with a few smaller ones on the Baja peninsula. Skeptics already question the two proposed plants in Playas de Rosarito — known as Rosarito Beach to American expatriates and visiting college spring-breakers.

“It raises all kinds of red flags,” said Joe Geever, California policy coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, an environmentalist group that has fought the Carlsbad plant for years in court, saying it will kill marine life and require too much electricity.

Water agencies that supply much of Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Tijuana, Mexico, are pursuing the plant that would produce 50 million gallons a day in Rosarito near an existing electricity plant. They commissioned a study last year that found no flaws and ordered another one that will include a cost estimate, with an eye toward starting operations in three to five years.

Potential disagreements between the two countries include how the new water stores will be used.

U.S. agencies want to help pay for the plant by letting Mexico keep the water for booming areas of Tijuana and Rosarito if Mexico would surrender some of its allotment from the Colorado River, saving the cost of laying pipes from the plant to California.

Mexico is not likely to give up water from the Colorado, which feeds seven western U.S. states and northwest Mexico, said Jose Gutierrez, assistant director for binational affairs at Mexico’s National Water Commission. Mexico’s rights are enshrined in a 1944 treaty.

“The treaty carries great significance in our country. We have to protect it fiercely,” Gutierrez said.

Rick Van Schoik, director of Arizona State University’s North American Center for Transborder Studies, said laying a pipeline across the border would be too costly.

“It’s expensive enough to desalinate. I just don’t see how it calculates out,” he said.

The other big plant proposal joins Consolidated Water Co., a Cayman Islands company, with Mexican investors. Their proposal would send much of its 100 million gallons a day from Rosarito to the United States via a new pipeline, with operations beginning in 2014.

Mexico isn’t likely to approve both plants, said Gutierrez, whose government is sponsoring the 50-million-gallon-a-day plant with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the San Diego County Water Authority, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

A key question is whether Mexico will allow water first used at the neighboring electric plant to be desalinated, a huge potential savings. California recently adopted rules that prohibit the state’s electric plants from sucking in vast amounts of seawater to cool their machinery.

The U.S. and Mexico can save money by joining forces, achieving economies of scale, said Halla Razak, the San Diego agency’s Colorado River program manager. At least half of the plant’s water would stay in Mexico, she said.

“Mexico is the entity that is driving the project, even more than the United States,” she said.

U.S. and Mexican officials say they expect the new plants will adhere to the same standards as California, including water quality, but that Mexico’s regulators may act faster and shield sponsors from legal challenges.

“The Mexicans will ask all the same questions that we ask here, but it’s not endless lawsuits,” said Mark Watton, general manager of Otay Water District, which would buy about 20 million gallons a day from Consolidated’s Mexico plant for its San Diego-area customers. “You get an answer quicker.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s