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Southern Nevada Water Authority



SNWA continues to explore the feasibility of ocean desalination
with other municipal Colorado River users.

In recent years, there have been many significant advances associated with desalination, making it a potentially viable future water resource. Several obstacles make it challenging, including the permitting process, environmental concerns (power generation, marine ecosystems and brine disposal), access to coastal property and existing treaties. Despite these challenges, desalination remains a long-term resource.

Desalinated seawater or brackish water does not reduce Southern Nevada’s reliance upon the Colorado River. Because desalinated water would most likely be conveyed through a trade or exchange agreement with a California water agency or Mexico for a share of their river allocation, desalination would actually increase this region’s dependence upon the Colorado River system.

The alternative, constructing and operating a pipeline to convey desalinated water from the coastal site to Southern Nevada, would dramatically increase costs on an acre-foot basis and complicate already difficult permitting issues.

Seawater Desalination

SNWA continues to explore the feasibility of ocean desalination with other municipal Colorado River users within the United States and Mexico. Should Southern Nevada participate in the desalination process, any water obtained would most likely be in the form of an exchange, rather than a pipeline. For example, Southern Nevada could pay entities in California or Mexico to construct and operate desalination facilities in exchange for the ability to divert an equivalent portion of their Colorado River water at Lake Mead.

Brackish Water Desalination

SNWA entered into an agreement with municipal water agencies in the states of Arizona and California, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado River Commission to fund and complete the Yuma Desalting Plant Pilot Run (YDP Pilot Run). The plant, located near Yuma, Arizona, is a brackish water reverse osmosis plant that was constructed to treat pumped brackish agricultural drainage water from the United States' lower Gila River Valley area.

The Yuma Desalting Plant operated at one-third capacity for a total of one year to collect data on the viability of operating the plant at full capacity on a sustained basis. The YDP Pilot Run increased storage in the Colorado River system and assisted with meeting water-delivery obligations to Mexico.

SNWA and the municipal water agencies received System Efficiency Intentionally Created Surplus credit equivalent to the amount of water produced and returned to the river in return for providing a portion of pilot-test funding. SNWA and municipal agencies also funded a research study on operating the plant long term as well as a portion of the costs for environmental monitoring associated with pilot operations. Long-term operations of the Yuma Desalting Plant by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would require significant upgrades or reconfiguration of the facility.