Friday, July 31, 2009

What industry can do for water...

I found an online article some time ago and saved it in my bookmarks. I knew I might need to look at it again then but wasn't sure why. Well, because I made this month of July an unofficial water worry month at the MOCO blog, I think sharing some of it now is appropriate.

This article is an in depth look at water issues and it is titled Aquifers and Rivers Are Running Dry: How Three Regions Are Coping. It is a great read and really does offer two sides to the story so please read it all... the goods and the bads.

I'm going to cut an paste quite a bit below. I offer no other comments other than keep and open mind as to why big business, big industry, and big development might be just THE sort of neighbors we want around these parts as we look to securing the future water needs for the community.

Below an excerpt from the article... Enjoy...

On the descent into Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix's endless grid of streets and tract homes is etched into the desert floor like the imprinted surface of a microchip. When the sunlight hits at the right angle, the canals that zigzag across the landscape light up like semiconductor traces surging with electricity.

And Phoenix is sprawling at a rate that seems to rival Moore's law. In the 1990s, the metro area was growing at the rate of an acre every three hours. The population is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years. But cities, unlike microchips, don't double in efficiency every 18 months. A 2007 government report stated that staggering growth in the American Southwest "will inevitably result in increasingly costly, controversial, and unavoidable trade-off choices." The issue: how to parcel out a dwindling water supply.

The city's chief water sources are the Salt River Project and the Central Arizona Project, two massive water systems that bookend a century-long effort to hydrate the region. The Salt River Project began in 1903 with the Roosevelt Dam, which reined in the flood-prone waterway. Today, the SRP is a vast network of reservoirs, hydroelectric dams, and channels. As for the Central Arizona Project, it's one of the largest and most expensive aqueducts in the US, completed in 1993 at a cost of $3.6 billion. The 336-mile CAP canal diverts 489 billion gallons a year from the Colorado River, irrigating more than 300,000 acres of farmland and slaking the thirst of Phoenix and Tucson.

The CAP isn't the only straw sucking at the Colorado. Seven states and dozens of Indian reservations, as well as Mexico, tap its flow. Development has sapped the river, a problem exacerbated by a drought called "perhaps the worst in 500 years" by US interior secretary Gale Norton. Lake Mead, an immense reservoir that dams the Colorado to supply most of Phoenix's water, has a 50-50 chance of running dry by 2021, according to a study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Larry Dozier, the CAP's deputy general manager, calls this finding "absurd," claiming that studies show the reservoir won't disappear entirely, even in the worst case. However, the Scripps researchers counter that their calculations are conservative and warn that "the water shortage is likely to be more dire in reality."

Chandler, a city on the southeastern edge of Phoenix, epitomizes the regional dilemma. Founded in 1912 to accommodate farmers who ventured into the Sonoran Desert, Chandler supports a population that has tripled in the past 20 years to 250,000. On the outskirts of town, where the last remaining farms fade into the scrub, stand three colossal Intel semiconductor manufacturing plants: Fab 12, Fab 22, and the gleaming new Fab 32, which produces state-of-the-art chips on a floor area equivalent to 17 football fields. Intel is a key driver of the local economy. The company employs 10,000 people and has invested $9 billion in Chandler; its workers, on average, earn four times the Arizona median salary. Just one problem: The fabs are also by far the city's biggest consumer of water.

Chip fabrication is a thirsty process. The silicon wafers must be rinsed after each of the several dozen semiconductor layers is applied and etched. Consequently, the Intel campus has been designed to maximize every drop of the 2 million gallons it uses daily. Intel, wary of spilling its manufacturing secrets, bars journalists from entering the enormous silver and white monolith. Fortunately, the plant's circulatory system is visible from the outside. Len Drago, who is responsible for the facility's environmental profile, offers to show it to me. As we walk around the building's perimeter, he explains how water flows through the plant.

The tiniest imperfection can render a wafer useless, so incoming water cascades through a series of filters until its mineral content is a hundred-thousandth that of Colorado River water. The briny byproduct goes into a towering tank that looks like a Jules Verne moon rocket, which distills out the remaining water and pumps it back to the beginning of the system. The salty sludge goes to an evaporation pond. The purified water, meanwhile, is used to wash chips. The rinse water is treated and then sent to other parts of the campus: the air scrubbers that filter the plant's emissions, the massive cooling towers that keep workers from suffocating in the desert heat. Even the drought-resistant desert landscaping in the plant's parking lot is irrigated with wastewater.

But Intel doesn't reuse all of its wastewater. Every day, the company pumps 1.5 million gallons to a $19 million reverse-osmosis desalination plant it built for Chandler. This water, cleaned to drinking standards, is pumped 6 miles away and injected 600 feet down into a sandstone aquifer beneath the city. To date, Intel has banked more than 3 billion gallons. The facility recycles or stores 75 percent of the water it brings in, Drago says.

Intel isn't simply trying to be a good corporate citizen. Nor is it merely out to save money. Running a sustainable operation greases the regulatory wheels when the company wants to expand. Because Intel was well within the government's environmental thresholds for the site, Fab 32 didn't even require a new water-use permit. It hasn't always been this way, Drago admits. "Back in the early 1980s, we had three Superfund sites in California," he says. "It's a lot easier to do things the right way. Especially in the long term."

The long term, however, will be ruled by the twin realities of an exploding population and a hotter, drier climate. Dave Siegel, Chandler's water czar, describes how he plans to continue providing for the growing city (and his biggest customer, Intel). The government has legal rights to all the water it needs, he says, not only from the SRP and the CAP but from 27 wells drilled into the aquifer. "That's legal water, mind you," he says. "It's a different thing than physical water." Legal water refers to the complex array of agreements, treaties, and laws that govern water use in the American West — and federal and state allocations trump Chandler's municipal rights. As for physical water, that's the stuff coming out of the tap. All the legal water in the world isn't enough to wash a bandanna if there's no physical water available.

So Chandler came up with a clever plan. The city banks as much excess CAP water as it can, pumping it underground along with Intel's contribution. Thanks to this so-called recharge, the local aquifer is actually rising a few feet a year. Siegel maintains that even if the most apocalyptic predictions came true — say, the rivers collapse completely — Chandler would be able to soldier on. "If we never recharge another drop," he says, "we have enough water underneath us to last about 100 years." His projection includes future growth, including two more Intel fabs now on the drawing board.

End excerpt.

Last bit from me on this... I've heard a rumor many times that this particular company highlighted in the article considered at one point in time recharging the aquifers right here in Mohave County. If true, then the Mohave County centric political environment has been messed up much longer than I imagined.

Please support new industry prospects here in Mohave County.

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