Arizona plans largest desal plant in history with Israeli engineers

“Ducey said the state is working with Israeli engineers on ‘the largest desalination project in in history.’ ‘What this fund is going to allow us to do is to complete this contractually between now and the end of the term, so there’s more to follow…'” according to KTAR’s July 6 report on the latest bill that invests over $1B in water projects.

In the same interview, Ducey stated, “the idea is to make a market for water… we’re gonna have water we can sell to other states…”

There are many reasons not to adopt desal as the answer to water problems. While some who supported the legislation find a binational desal plant on the Sea of Cortez in Sonora impractical at best, Ducey had been scheming more than it had appeared.

Ducey and an entourage were in Israel six weeks ago for talks on business and trade. They toured a desalination plant run by IDE Technologies, which was involved in the Poseidon desal plant in Carlsbad and the failed attempt at an additional desal plant in Huntington Beach, California (see Ocean Desal for Arizona: Dead in the Water.)

IDE Ducey

Ducey didn’t give specifics about the talks in Israel, but this vague May 31 article from the Jerusalem Post implied there was more going on. “Visiting Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey advanced a major desalination project for his state in meetings with top Israeli officials on Tuesday, which he believes will secure water for Arizona for the next 100 years.”  

During the trip, Arizona Chamber of Commerce signed an agreement with their Israeli counterpart which says they will, “collaborate to ‘strengthen trade, technological and industrial cooperation.’”

Arizona Chamber President and CEO Danny Seiden, who joined the Israel trip, wrote,

“Businesses and new residents are moving here in droves to take advantage of the pro-growth policies we’ve adopted to make Arizona one of the most competitive and attractive places in the country to invest, expand and create jobs…

Our growth can only be sustained so long as we have a water supply that can support it. Now is the time to secure Arizona’s water future…

The opportunity to see how Israel has made desalination a reality to secure the country’s water future was fascinating and inspiring, and I am confident that the future of Arizona’s water security has arrived.

AZ Big Media

Seiden was Ducey’s Deputy Chief of Staff from 2014 to 2018. Commerce Authority president and CEO Sandra Watson was on the trip as well. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Commerce Authority are very influential organizations whose primary goal is economic growth.

In Ducey’s January 2022 announcement of the proposed legislation he stated, “With resources available in our budget, a relationship with Mexico that we’ve built and strengthened over the last seven years, and the need is clear – what better place to invest more. 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.”

The superpower Ducey is idolizing is fraught with water-related (and other) human rights issues, characterized by the “idea that water is a commodity that can be hoarded away or sold only to the highest bidder.”

I reached out for Nellie Jo David’s perspective:

Bedouins, indigenous to Palestine, have suffered from Israel’s so called sustainable water policies. The State drills into underground aquifers, and sucks up so much water, it no longer runs in many areas of the West Bank. When the canals run dry, the Palestinians are unable to farm, leading to food scarcity. This is done in a similar way to how rivers were diverted and over used for settlement in Arizona. Years later, there is a similar hypocrisy in Arizona’s governor thinking that he can set up a desalination plant in Mexico in areas sacred to O’odham – most especially if these plants are near the sacred Pinacate areas. These settler colonial governments use appealing language like sustainability, but in reality they are destroying sustainable practices that have predated their methods of extraction and greed.

These two states learn from each others’ methods in militarization, water extraction, and pretty much every facet of settler colonialism. Meanwhile, our salt runs, ceremonies, and way of life is threatened by their continual disrespect for the land and water. The fact that they are considering the desalination plant to be on O’odham territory in Mexico is another example of what little regard they have for indigenous people.

Many desalination plants are set up as public-private partnerships (P3), which not only may allow for private sale of water, but allows for opportunities for financialization. Two and a half pages of the legislation are dedicated to P3s. It would also appear that a good majority of the funds are set aside for the deal to which Ducey is referring.

The IDE Technologies website states that “In Engineering/Procurement/Support Services contracts, IDE assumes responsibility for the design and procurement phases of the project including support services, as demonstrated in the Cape Preston plant in Australia, and the Carlsbad plant in CA, USA.” It is possible that this is the type of contract Ducey intends to close for the desal plant intended for the Puerto Peñasco area before the end of his term.

The legislation to fund water augmentation and empower the Water Infrastructure Financing Authority to procure services and enter into P3s, also now allows for contracting or employing engineers and consultants.

Back in 2014 Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) plenary, Poseidon Resources Corp (a subsidiary of Poseidon Water) the company that administers the Carlsbad desal plant in California (designed by IDE Americas/IDE Technologies), held a presentation (titled 2-IDE Powerpoint Arizona.pdf within the zip file) about this facility for the AMC Environment and Water Committee. Furthermore, ADWR presented on their Strategic Vision (which included ocean desal as a long-term strategy), showing a map of the proposed binational desal plant in Puerto Peñasco with a pipeline to the Morelos Dam. This 2014 plenary was also significant because it led to the signing of a Water Desalination Declaration of Cooperation between the governor of Arizona and the governor of Sonora.

The Arizona-Mexico Commission facilitated a similar agreement between Ducey and Sonora’s outgoing governor last year.

In 2020, the Binational Study of Water Desalination Opportunities in the Sea of Cortez was completed (and the Executive Summary) by Black & Veatch and Libra Ingenieros Civiles setting the stage for narrowing down the focus to one or more locations to study more in depth.

Despite how long this project has been in the works (actually going back to at least 2008), there had been no indication that a contract with Israel before the end of Ducey’s term was in the works.

Ducey’s term is ending soon, but he’s clearly not the only one behind this. His endorsement for the next governor, Karrin Taylor Robson is on board with desalination. Her campaign literature references Israel as they pertain to desalination, and states, “I commend Governor Ducey for his efforts to accelerate a large-scale desalination effort for Arizona. Partnering with Mexico on a plant along the Sea of Cortez, for example, has the potential to generate significant additional supply for people on both sides of the border. Making desalination a reality will require a multi-year effort, and it’s one I will prioritize as Governor.” Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce, Arizona-Mexico Commission, SRP, Freeport McMoRan, and more all are working to make this a reality.

Could Arizona really sell water to other states? There’s no reason to think there will be extra water beyond Arizona and Sonora’s needs over a decade from now. That said, as I wrote in Arizona Water Market Part 4: A Critical Look at Lake Mead Storage, there are aspects of a framework to provide compensation for water storage and to trade water. And yet there are so many things unresolved for a binational desal plant, like rights of way issues, availability of power, security, etc.; and either an exchange framework (Arizona wants to take some of Mexico’s Colorado River water in exchange for helping fund the desal plant) or plans for a massive pipeline to transport water to Arizona. It is an extremely risky and impractical scheme that if successful, will result in expensive water and ocean damage, among many other issues.

Follow my Twitter account for updates.
Check out the timeline portion of this website for much more background on the plans for the binational desal plant on the Sea of Cortez.

2 thoughts on “Arizona plans largest desal plant in history with Israeli engineers

  1. Pingback: Binational Desalination for Arizona: Origins and Influence | Desert Water Grab

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