Water board set to vote on desalination plant

Water board set to vote on desalination plant

The reverse osmosis equipment in a desalination plant. Deposit Photo

The wheels are finally moving on the proposed desalination plant backed by Governor Doug Ducey just two weeks before he is scheduled to leave office – but the Legislature is concerned the process is moving too fast. 

Arizona Senate Republican spokeswoman Kim Quintero sent out a notification that the Joint Legislative Water Committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss potential action by the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority to provide preliminary approval to fund a desalination plant. 

“The Legislature has learned of a rushed movement by the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority to provide preliminary approval of a large expenditure of taxpayer dollars on a desalination plant proposal without an appropriate opportunity for public discussion and comment,” she wrote. 

A source with knowledge of the proposal said the proposed desalination plant would be located on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico and the water would be pumped to Arizona, not traded in exchange for more Colorado River water as has been previously speculated. The proposal includes a first phase providing an estimated 300,000 acre-feet of water with two possible additional phases, the source said. The project, which would require federal approval, would also utilize solar power. 

Earlier this year, the legislature approved a plan backed by Ducey to invest $1 billion over three years for water projects. The legislation beefed up the existing Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, known as WIFA, and gave a new WIFA board the power to approve projects utilizing the money.  

Ducey has long backed a proposed desalination plant along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico as one possible use for the funds. He first referenced the proposal during his final State of the State speech in January. 

“Now, with resources available in our budget, a relationship with Mexico that we’ve built and strengthened over the last several years, and the need clear – what better place to invest more?” Ducey said. “Instead of just talking about desalination – the technology that made Israel the world’s water superpower – how about we pave the way to make it actually happen?” 

According to a public agenda, WIFA’s Long Term Water Augmentation Committee met today and heard a presentation on an “application regarding their Sea of Cortez desalination plant” from IDE Technologies, an Israeli water desalination company. 

Ducey toured a desalination plant during a trip to Israel earlier this year and also hosted a delegation of Israeli business leaders in May that included individuals from the water management industry. 

The Capitol Times filed a public records request with the governor’s office in March seeking communications with IDE Technologies in 2021 and 2022 and received no response beyond an acknowledgment that the office received the request. 

Ducey has long said he wanted to get the ball rolling on the desalination project before the end of his term. 

“There is more work to do, and I’d like to not leave it to my successor,” he told the Capitol Times in July in reference to the water legislation passed this year. 

In an email today, Quintero wrote that “there is certainly value in the mentioned proposal, but we are concerned about the process of this approval,” arguing the water legislation passed by the Legislature requires more opportunity for public input. 

The Joint Legislative Water Committee will meet on Tuesday at 2 p.m., hours after the WIFA board’s scheduled 11 a.m. meeting. It is unclear if the WIFA board will discuss or vote on the desalination project at that meeting as an agenda is not yet available.  

Nick Phillips contributed to this report.