Thursday, July 02, 2009

The great water facade

Now that we are in the month of July and the outside heater is working at full capacity again (after a rather cool June for our parts), I think back to a younger and more innocent time in my life. In those way past summers I'd set the lawn sprinkler on full blast and run back and forth for what seemed like hours. Sure, the lawn got some water in the process but for practical purposes I was just wasting water for entertainment.

No, I'm not writing the above because I yearn for the days of my youth... no not at all. It is just there have been a few local happenings in recent weeks about possible positive economic development projects in the news that has brought out the worst in some fellow locals. You see, the few but very loud water worry warts love to scream that any business that uses water as any sort of resource is a moral hazard and threatens the well being of the community. When I read stuff like that it simply takes me back to the time when I was clearly wasting water... and wish I was doing just that right now. The sooner the water is all gone, the sooner those folks will shut up is the way I'm justifying the thought of running through my lawn with the sprinklers on full blast.

If you are now thinking that I'm about to take out the scissors and make some cuts, well then pat yourself on the back 'cause you are correct sir (or ma'am).

If you weren't aware and only relied on the few water worry warts that appear at Mohave County meetings -- or read remarks made by mostly folks that are too fearful to identify themselves at the KDM's website -- or happen to stumble into some underground meeting in Golden Valley where plots to boycott business people who like to play golf... you'd be left to believe that at any moment in the next hour, day, or week that all water resources in Mohave County will be gone.

A couple of months back a little blurb was in the paper talking about a new business that has plans to open out at the local airport center. This business venture is one where they will produce vodka and other spirits. One water worry wart responded that they are upset because the distillery will use all the water in Mohave County. Seriously. This is what this area is up against when it comes to efforts to bring economic development to this general location.

The water worry warts would only have a case to make if they actually knew how much water remained from where the liquid comes from. Yet they have nothing and never have bothered to offer anything real in terms of any sort of proof on which they bitch and whine about. Oh I've heard the water worry warts say that they know of some wells that have run dry, and that the owner of the well had to drill down further to access more water, or that the well ran dry and the property owner didn't have enough money to drill down further for access to more water. Not exactly proof that the entire county will be left without water in the foreseeable future.

Still, other water worry warts have some charts that show data that indicate that water levels in a city owned well have dropped over the last 50 years. Makes for a nice visual to scare unsuspecting people that happen to come across the chart, but it hardly proves anything and it absolutely answers nothing in regards to how much water is left and when will it be all gone.

Click on this link for such an example.

There you'll find this as the header for the chart...

This "Depth to Water" chart from the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources (ADWR) shows the rapidly dropping water level from a City of Kingman well in the Hualapai aquifer. It is obvious that the level has been dropping from the day the well came into production. It isn't rocket science to see that just the City of Kingman draw alone is beyond the recovery rate.

No, it won't take a rocket scientist to see anything on that chart. It also won't take a math whiz to figure out that the data doesn't suggest that water is about to run out in MY lifetime. On the chart you will see that the water level has dropped an estimated 71 feet in 45 years and a few months. Now I don't know what the population was in 1963 around here or what sort of commercial/industrial activity was taking place at the time, but I'm still not nearly as concerned as the promoter of the chart trying to make a point.

Another point to consider is that water is found at the depth of 582 feet, according to the figure below the label 'DTW (ft)' on that chart (it actually looks like the last data point is at the 579 foot level though but I'll use the what it says at the top of the chart anyway). The well itself was originally drilled down to a depth of 1000 feet in 1963. The original reading of the level of the well back then was approximately 511 feet deep. Check my math but that there is still an estimated 418 feet of water in that well. If we use the rate of 71 feet of water every 45 years then that means there is approximately 265 years worth of water left in that well.

Oh, I bet we are drawing water out of that well a bit faster these days than we were from 20 years ago because of all the new people that have multiplied or otherwise moved to the area. So let's say that, based on more recent water level readings of the chart, we find that the well drops 3.5 feet a year, that means the well runs dry in a little over 119 years.

Maybe the community ends up using enough water to average 5 feet a year... it will still take 83 years to use all the water in that well.

And that is just that particular well... and actually more importantly, that well drilled at that depth. But maybe someone out there could tell me what could happen if the well was drilled another 500 feet, or a 1,000 feet?? I mean I can't say for certain. Is there more water below that level, or that 1,000 feet the maximum length a well can be drilled for?? Is anyone even curious?? Maybe we find out sometime in the next 120 years and I look forward to that conversation with the person that so loves to use this chart then (if only each of us lives that long).

All this worry, all this hand wringing, in the midst of what is reported to be a bad drought and there is still decades, and perhaps centuries, worth of water in one particular well.

Alright, enough with the water stuff since no one to this point has any data suggesting how much water there actually is or when it will all be gone. In fact water is not really the overarching issue, economic development actually is.

Here is the article from the KDMiner that appeared today, and I'll take some excerpts out and play with them a bit below...

KINGMAN -The public got its first chance to comment on a 340-megawatt solar facility planned for the Red Lake area 27 miles north of Kingman. And water was the topic of conversation.

Representatives from Mohave Sun Power spoke about the Hualapai Valley Solar Project to stakeholders and residents during its first public meeting Tuesday morning at the Hampton Inn in Kingman. They gave a description of how the concentrated solar plant works and the 18-month permitting process the company will have to go through before construction can start.

The main concern raised by residents and stakeholders attending the meeting was the use of water to generate steam and cool the plant's turbines. The plant is estimated to use between 1,500 to 3,000 acre feet of water a year.

Funny that the main concern was about the use of water, but those concerned probably didn't have anything to back up their concerns. And in fact probably ignored any data that the representatives from the power generating plant offered. The water worry warts are already convinced... with zero data... and have a very closed mind.

So let's see some of those concerns...

How much the plant will use depends on the quality of the water, said Greg Bartlett, project manager for the Hualapai Valley Solar plant.

The Mohave County General Plan requires the use of dry cooling in power plants, especially if the aquifer is being depleted, said resident Denise Bensusan. Dry cooling technology uses air instead of water to cool the turbines.

The old first rule of fighting against economic development is to wave the 'General Plan' about frantically, check. When, again, did the General Plan become the final plan that can never be changed or at the very least be anything other than a guide for potential development when it was originally written or legally amended over time??

A study by the property owner, which is currently Rhodes Homes, and several hydrologists shows there is more than enough water for the plant without drawing down the aquifer, said Chris Stephens, an advisor to Mohave Sun, who has worked for Rhodes Homes in the past.

Anyone want to bet that what Mr. Stephens shared at the meeting received absolutely no consideration from the water worry warts in attendance?? No takers?? Read on...

It was unfair to compare a large residential development with hundreds of homes, which would be built over several years, to a solar plant that would be built in three years, Bensusan said.

Glad you didn't take my bet, aren't you?? Also funny that these same sort of water worry warts were completely against a master planned community just a short time ago and had concerns about the tens of thousands of homes that were planned to be built as if they would be built and sold in a matter of months instead of several years. Above it is only hundreds of homes in several years. My, how the story changes to fit the particular battle against economic development.

Moving on...

"We live in the middle of a desert," she said. "You come into our community and you want to build a solar power plant, wonderful, good, if you follow the guidelines we have in place.

"Just because Mr. Rhodes slipped this through, however he did it, doesn't mean that you can come in here and use it all," Bensusan said. The technology is available to use dry cooling in the power plant.

The second rule for poo-pooing economic development is to once again refer to the General Plan and then infer that any developer only wants to use ALL the water there is and ever will be from wherever it is it comes from here in Mohave County, check again (follow that play book).

Notice the snide 'however he did it' in reference to the developer that spent gobs of money on hydrologists and obtaining all the legal permissions needed at all levels of government to develop his own property. Has anyone asked Ms. Bensusan 'however she did it' i.e. coming to the absolute conclusion that a developer will use all the water in Mohave County?? Or... I hope for this I really do... or are the powers that be simply ignoring her and her silly and unproven viewpoints??

"You would probably see a less hostile group in front of you if you would do things that are right and proper for a desert area," she said.

So darn funny. No guarantees though, what I mean is that any private property owner that intends to develop his/her property would only 'probably' see a less hostile group if they did exactly what Ms. Bensusan and her merry band of anti-economic development cohorts want. Watching these folks over the last few years at least has left me with the conclusion that hostility is the only tactic they have to use (I've seen their crappy newsletters).

Moving on...

Everyone seems to have different facts on how much water there is, said one resident.

Probably the smartest person in the room at that meeting.

What about the cost of electricity to the public, asked Bob Riley, economic development director for the Kingman Airport Authority. The price for alternative energy can be as much as 50 percent higher than electricity that comes from traditional sources.

I like Mr. Riley just fine and do not think he is a water worry wart, but I don't see how this would be a concern unless our local energy provider insisted on only buying energy from a plant that may or may not sell energy at higher prices.

Residents also expressed concern that the energy would be sold to the highest bidder, which could be an out-of-state agency.

Who cares if an out of state energy user is the highest bidder?? This is really a concern?? If UniSource runs low on electricity, then they will be the highest bidder (and our rates will go up).

The solar plant would be using water from Mohave County to generate electricity that residents could never benefit from, said Jack Hummel, another resident.

I don't know Mr. Hummel so I won't lop him in with the water worry warts, but if the prior concern was true and the energy produced at the solar plant was more expensive, what would be the benefit to the residents?? Forcing the locals into higher electricity rates is not a benefit last time I checked. I'm sure Mr. Hummel and many other residents use water here in Mohave County, how are they benefiting other residents by use of their water??

The article goes on to say that the development group wouldn't articulate on the number of jobs needed for the plant to run, but a few weeks ago the initial information spoke of approximately 100 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs to build the plant. Sounds like an economic development benefit might be rattling around in there somewhere and really not that difficult to identify when residents are losing jobs, seeing opportunities evaporate, services threatened, and even property values diminish further than they may have had to.

The state of Arizona had required all electrical utilities to get about 15 percent of their power from green energy sources by 2025, Bartlett said. Currently, there are not enough green energy sources in the state to meet that mandate.

Also, the company has no way of controlling where the electricity generated by the plant goes, he said. The company will have a contract with a power provider, such as UniSource or APS, and once the electricity is put on the grid it can be shuttled anywhere, he said.

I wouldn't be surprised if the water worry warts totally disregarded any or all of the above either. If the water worry warts are really concerned here about these solar power producing plants here in Mohave County, they may want to take the issue up to the state level and question the requirements on energy use recently passed into law. If they do head to the state capitol, there they will find a state government that believes this area has plenty of water with one eye on perhaps using some for itself, as needed.

Then there is this...

One major concern raised during the meeting was the cultural significance of the site to the Hualapai Indian Tribe. The area holds a special significance to the tribe, especially in its creation stories, said Loretta Jackson-Kelly, the tribe's historic preservation officer.

"It's something you can't touch," she said, referring to the cultural importance of the site. The plant would be a desecration of a sacred area, she said. "I can't go to the elders and tell them that they're going to be offering jobs for this, so maybe it's all right. You can't mitigate this away. This is cultural genocide."

... obviously not a water worry wart and I won't comment on the cultural side of the issue.

And lastly, one person that spoke in favor of the idea for this development to move forward said this...

Debra Sixta, a local real estate representative, spoke out in favor of the project.

"I'm encouraged that such a business would want to come to our area," she said, and that the company is being open about its business and hasn't tried to hide anything.

As a business owner myself, I too am encouraged when I hear about the possibility of new investment and economic development in this area. I hope more is done to bring more opportunity to our community... well... at least until all the water is gone. I'll do my part as I run through the sprinklers later on.

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