Monday, November 14, 2011

The energy, and expense, of bringing water to southern California

Great article by Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times: The aqueduct stretched across the desert like an endless blue freight train, carrying its cargo of Colorado River water to a concrete building at the base of a craggy-faced mountain. Inside the plant, adorned with the seal of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a set of massive pumps hoisted the water 441 feet high, disgorging it into a tunnel and the final leg of its journey from the Arizona border to a Riverside County reservoir.

The Julian Hinds Pumping Plant is one of the hydraulic hearts of California's vast water supply system, built early in the last century to push water from where it is to where it isn't, no matter how many hundreds of miles of desert, mountains and valleys are in the way.

Defying geography on such a grand scale takes energy. A lot of it. It's also expensive. And it's going to become more so, driving up Southern California water rates and forcing the region to consider more mundane sources closer to home.

The volume of water propelled uphill on one recent day at Hinds weighed the equivalent of more than four World Trade Center towers and required six 12,500-horsepower motors driven by electricity, much of it from Hoover and Parker dams on the Colorado. But the federal contract that allocates more than a quarter of Hoover Dam's hydro-generation to the MWD expires in 2017. The water agency expects to lose 5% of its Hoover electricity under a new pact that will accommodate additional customers by trimming sales to longtime users.

The MWD will have to buy additional power on the open market, at higher prices. And the state's upcoming cap-and-trade program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could require the district to purchase expensive pollution allowances to offset the energy it gets from fossil-fuel power plants....

The Cascades of the Los Angeles Aqueduct near Sylmar, California, shot by Mike Dillon, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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