Arizona could have opportunities to import, create more water in the future

Aug 30, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 7:00 am

water concerns...

(Arizona Department of Water Resources Photo)

(Arizona Department of Water Resources Photo)

PHOENIX — As Arizona faces a drought and other water concerns, many municipalities are looking to diversify their existing water portfolios and work towards more conservation in an effort to secure their water futures.

However, there are also some potential ways to bring more new water to Arizona – with some caveats.

Paul Westerhoff is a Regents Professor and the Fulton Chair of Environmental Engineering at Arizona State University. He told KTAR News 92.3 FM importing more water has been discussed.

“People are looking at importing water from the Mississippi River, the Columbia River, the Gulf of California,” he said. “These are big, really expensive infrastructure projects.”

He added these projects would have many complications.

What are the water concerns?

“They would have to go through federal land, state land, tribal land, international borders,” Westerhoff explained. “These are going to be really large and really complex, and they kind of lock us in to a future of more water importation.”

Westerhoff said there are some revolutionary ideas to bring more water to the state.

One is atmospheric water capture, or pulling water out of the air and collecting it for use.

“It’s expensive, and we’re not going to use it in your home, but it turns out the water is really high quality,” Westerhoff said. “We can almost take water out of the atmosphere to make computer chips cheaper than they do it today with tap water.”

That’s because the water used in microelectronic production has to be incredibly clean. It currently goes through an extensive distillation and purification process.

With the chip business growing in Arizona, it’s an intriguing possibility

“I think for these high-quality water applications, atmospheric water capture is one really unique option,” Westerhoff said. “It’s not going to be tomorrow, but we’re thinking shorter time horizon than a pipeline from an ocean, for example.”

Then there’s an even more revolutionary idea: If hydrogen energy becomes widespread in the future, it could create more water in the process.

“If you put [hydrogen] through a fuel cell and make electricity, as long as you have oxygen around in the air your biproduct is water,” Westerhoff explained. “For the amount of energy it takes to run a home, you could make about 10 to 12 gallons of water a day if you were supplied by hydrogen.”

A scenario like this requires a move towards a hydrogen economy. That’s a big “if,” but Westerhoff says thinking big is worth it — at least where the long-term water outlook is concerned.

“Traditionally people have thought about the quantity [of water] as just being pipes, canals, infrastructure,” he said. “But with atmospheric water capture and hydrogen, there’s a new way to think about making water.”

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Arizona could have opportunities to import, create more water in the future