Power and Water: Combining Forces For Drought


Navajo Generating Station
By This Photo was taken by Wolfgang Moroder. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Navajo Generating Station powers the efforts to bring water to Phoenix and Tucson.

Hundreds of miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, a power plant consumes 15 tons of coal each minute. Its three smoke stacks spew 44,000 tons of carbon into the air each day.

It’s been doing that for 40 years.

Known as the Navajo Generating Station, the plant has enabled astounding growth in both Phoenix and Tucson.

That’s because the plant creates electricity to power the pumps that lift water from the Colorado River 3,000 feet uphill and 336 miles east to Phoenix.

The coal powered-plant is also the focus of the latest in a series of articles by online magazine, ProPublica. The series is examining how each state in the Southwest is contributing to the area's 15-year-drought.

Environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten told KNPR's State of Nevada that the plant is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in the United States. 

"The Navajo Generating Station is the third largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States from power plants," Lustgarten said.

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The noticeable haze in the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners area, he added, can be linked back to the power plant.   

Lustgarten pointed out that the plant and others like it around the Southwest were built to solve the problem of water for cities like Phoenix. But because of its massive carbon plume, he said it's contributing to climate change which intensifies the water shortage in the desert southwest.

"One of the largest contributors in the climate change exists to move that very water which is being made more scarce through the climate change process," Lustgarten said.

Despite the pollution problems, a recent deal with the Environmental Protection Agency allows the station to stay open through 2044. 

Lustgarten said he tried to get a straight answer from the agency about why: "I wasn't entirely satisfied with what I learned from the EPA."

He said the Department of Interior is a part owner of the plant, making shutting down it difficult. It is also still important for securing Arizona's water and power supply not to mention jobs. 


Abrahm Lustgarten, enviromental reporter, ProPublica

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