The situation of the Navajo Generating Station [right, credit NGDS], a coal-fired power plant in Page, Arizona is complex. It is a major economic engine for the Navajo Nation, a major supplier of power for the Central Arizona Project, a target of the EPA for air quality, and the focus of debate on all those topics. Alan Dulaney, Water Policy Administrator for the City of Peoria, wrote a column in this month's issue of the Arizona Hydrological Society newsletter that brings some of these complex interactions into focus. It is reprinted below with approval of Alan and AHS:
Navajo Generating Station hangs by a thread. So stated David Modeer, General Manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), on May 1 in Glendale. And the fate of a major portion of the reasonably priced, replenishable water supply for central Arizona hangs with it.
The Central Arizona Project has been a goal for Arizona since 1912. Arizona takes 1.5 million acre-feet each year off the Colorado River and moves it through Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima Counties. But a tremendous amount of power is needed to move that water uphill to Tucson. Navajo Generating Station (NGS) provides that power, and keeps CAP water rates reasonable. Without reasonable rates, farmers have made it clear that they will pump mostly groundwater again, and municipal users would soon follow. All the progress that has been made since the 1980 Groundwater Management Act in moving the three most populous counties to sustainable water supplies could be undone. And it all comes to a head with NGS, which is facing a myriad of challenges to its continued existence.
NGS sits on Navajo Nation land. On Monday night, April 29, the Navajo Tribal Council discussed the proposed lease extension which would allow NGS to operate beyond 2019. They came up with a new lease (10 amendments), voted 20-1 to accept their version, and President Ben Shelly signed it. But Salt River Project, which operates NGS, has said it will not accept the changes. NGS takes 34,000 acre-feet each year of Upper Basin Colorado River water from the Navajo Nation allotment for cooling, leaving only 17,000 acre-feet for the Navajo Nation. The Navajos want all their water back. They also want more control over the plant, and want the US Bureau of Reclamation to sign the lease. SRP and the other partners believe promises of more money and jobs will prevail. SRP must continue negotiating with the Navajos - but a new lease is by no means certain. In my opinion, non-Reservation folks do not truly grasp what the Navajos want, which is control over their own natural resources and cultural traditions. This is not a situation that can be resolved with more money; both sides are operating under different assumptions. I am not hopeful that a new lease will be possible as long as the two sides talk past one another.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Nevada Power suddenly announced that they would seek legislative permission to withdraw as a partner in NGS. We already knew that Los Angeles Power and Water was withdrawing, but the Nevada announcement came out of the blue. I suspect that continuing uncertainty with the lease - and beyond that, new coal contracts, EPA visibility rule requirements costing up to $1.1 billion in retrofits, and other challenges still unresolved - caused Nevada to decide that withdrawing would be the best option. Who will be next to bolt?
Arizona has done more water planning than any other state in the Union. The CAP canal is proof of that. Because of our water resources expertise, we sometimes think that our structure of water rights and engineering is unshakeable. It has brought us years of sustainable water at reasonable prices. Yet as David Modeer noted, uncertainty rules CAP from here on out. Only one thing is certain: the era of cheap water is over.
City of Peoria