LONGER STRAW New Las Vegas water intake pipe taps Lake Mead. (Photo courtesy of Southern Nevada Water Authority)

As drought grips the West in what is shaping up as a long, hot summer, regional water agencies are gearing up for short-term and long-term measures to keep the water flowing. Agencies are planning major investments and seeking out innovative sources, like desalination and groundwater reclamation.

Facing a 75% decline in supplies from the Rio Grande River, El Paso, Texas, implemented an emergency 77-day, $8-million project. The city installed three mobile skid-mounted reverse osmosis units to reclaim 8 million gallons per day of brackish water from 11 defunct wellheads, says Craig Goehring, chief executive officer of Brown & Caldwell. The Walnut Creek, Calif., engineer provided turnkey services for the 77-day project.

Relief from heat and drought is nowhere in sight, largely because of this year’s drastically diminished western snowpack. Nature’s cold storage system normally provides about 75% of the water supply in 11 states. As early as April, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service predicted an early snowmelt and low precipitation “will likely prolong the current drought and further reduce projected water supplies in many areas.”


Much of the activity focuses on the long term. On July 9 the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $389-million bill including funding for California water projects. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Ken Calvert (R) would fund conveyance and storage projects, innovative sources like desalination, and improved water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. A sticking point is a provision that would allow the Secretary of the Interior to approve storage projects if Congress doesn’t object within 120 days after receiving a feasibility study.

In another significant move, the San Diego County Water Authority approved a $1.8-billion master plan in late June. Highlights include a 50-million-gallon-per-day design-build-operate water treatment plant. Estimated to cost $75 million to $100 million, the project could be on line by 2008, says Tim Suydam, project manager. SDCWA’s environmental studies continue for a 50-mgd seawater desalination plant in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, that could be on line by 2010.

In Orange County, Calif., construction is under way on the innovative $487-million Groundwater Replenishment System, which will recharge groundwater with highly treated wastewater, providing supplies during droughts and recharging the saltwater intrusion barrier. Construction starts this year on its $300-million water treatment plant.

Severe drought conditions throughout the Southwest are forcing federal officials to cut hydroelectric power deliveries to state utilities. “Clearly, we are in a multiyear...