Getting the Shaft

A water dispute puts both the economy and the environment at risk

Southern California Edison says it must begin spending up to $58 million next year to have the pollution equipment in place by 2005. But before it commits to the expenditure, the utility is seeking approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

As part of the commission's review, future coal and water contracts between Peabody and the Indian tribes must be in place.

"Unless we can be assured that we are going to have agreements on both water and coal contracts, it is going to be difficult for us to make an investment and proceed with a filing before the public utilities commission to make the upgrade to the plant's emissions controls," Conroy says.

Even if the water and coal contracts are signed immediately, Conroy says, Southern California Edison will have to shut down Mohave Generating Station for up to a year to install the air pollution-control equipment.

Further delays in Peabody reaching settlements with the tribes only increases the likelihood that the utility will permanently close Mohave, rather than investing $1 billion in air-pollution controls. Southern California Edison owns 56 percent of Mohave. Other partners in the plant include Salt River Project (20 percent), Nevada Power Company (14 percent) and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (10 percent).

NRDC's Beckman says there are several alternatives to the N-aquifer that Peabody could use to operate the slurry line.

Waste water from the Tuba City water treatment plant could be used to supply about 1,000 acre-feet of water a year. Peabody, Beckman says, also could use lower-quality water available from other aquifers in the area. Peabody also could implement conservation measures to reduce water consumption.

Another option is to build a new pipeline that parallels the existing line. The new line would recirculate the water used to transport the coal from the mine to the power plant, returning it to the mine. Presently, water used to transport the coal to Laughlin is evaporated once it reaches the generating plant.

Edison's Conroy says it would cost at least $100 million to build a return water line from Laughlin to the Black Mesa Mine.

There also are ongoing discussions to tap into the Colorado River near Lee's Ferry and build a pipeline to deliver Colorado River water to the coal mine and the tribes. But the cost of that option -- more than $75 million -- has been prohibitive.

Southern California Edison is cool to any proposal that would increase the cost of delivering coal to the power plant that would result from any new pipeline construction.

"The more you keep adding to the cost of the project, the more difficult it becomes," Conroy says.

With time running out, there doesn't appear to be a readily available alternative supply of water for Peabody's slurry line.

"We are at a stalemate," Conroy says.

The California Public Utilities Commission has slated a public hearing on the Mohave Generating Station beginning at 1 p.m. October 11, in Tuba City.

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