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Water demands in Baja

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Baja is a peninsula surrounded by water, yet drinking water is extremely scarce.

Water infrastructure is an essential consideration when investing in Baja property.

Baja properties have been developed at a frantic pace over the past few years. With rapid growth, water infrastructure and sustainability are at risk. Water demand is exceeding water supply. Few people know whether there is a reliable stream of water supply for the coastal region that can sustain this explosive growth. Does Baja have sufficient infrastructure to support its real estate expansion? Where does coastal Baja get its water supply? Are critical infrastructure concerns, such as water, being addressed in Baja master plans?

The major source of water for coastal regions in upper Baja is the Colorado River. An aqueduct pumps waters from Mexicali over a 4,000-foot mountain to deliver water to Tecate, Tijuana and Rosarito. This 40-year-old aqueduct can only pump 58,680 gallons per minute.

The current demand in coastal Baja is for almost 60 gallons per person per day. By comparison, San Diego consumers use 200 gallons per person per day.

A realistic population estimate of 2 million inhabitants for the Baja Peninsula means that water demand is short more than 114 million gallons per day (MGD).

To reduce the shortage in Tijuana, water authorities are borrowing from the underground aquifer. Even with that, there is still a shortage of 19 MGD not being satisfied. The underground water is just a temporary solution. If this shortsighted approach continues, there will be scant resources available for future generations.

For more than 10 years plans have been in place for a second aqueduct running parallel to the existing aqueduct. There has been little movement forward. If work on the project were to start tomorrow, the aqueduct wouldn't be ready until 2010. At the continued growth rate, by 2010 the water demand will be at 140 MGD, far greater than the capacity of the new aqueduct, if completed. Water statistics for Baja reveal the current demand far exceeds the available supply.

Is desalination the answer?

A clear alternative is for the development of seawater desalination. Hotels and property developers in Baja are considering desalination as an attractive alternative. Seawater desalination is a growing option as a source for potable water, not only because it secures future water needs, but also because the costs of desalting water have dropped dramatically in the last decade, making it an affordable option.

Desalinated water is not expensive. A fair comparison between the real cost of conventional fresh water supplies and desalinated water reveals the two to be very close in cost. Long-standing subsidies of current water supplies, coupled with unknown infrastructure cost to provide it, make empirical comparisons between the two supplies difficult to quantify. Smaller local desalination plants, delivering product to a local supply network, using the newest distributed energy generation systems, will be very cost-efficient.

Desalination provides high-quality water. The membrane process removes significant amounts of salt and produces water that is of a higher quality than existing drinking water in Baja. The quality meets or exceeds all international standards for drinking water.

Generally, in terms of overall economics, environmental impact and security, several distributed facilities of smaller capacity are better than one large regional plant. Distributed desalination is a sound concept, which has been made economically viable due to technological advancements that enable low-cost production of desalted water even at small desalination volumes.

The most common method of desalination utilizes membrane technology. Baja California already has 0.6 MGD of installed capacity at six facilities. More facilities are under development. The city of Cabo San Lucas is developing a seawater desalination plant that should be operational in two years.

Investors in Baja should ask the following question when evaluating properties: Who will guarantee a safe, secure, sustainable water supply over the next 15 or 20 years? Look for properties that have a proven solution in place to answer this vital question.

For further information on desalination alternatives, visit www.ReEnergyDesal.com.

Camou is business development director for ReEnergy Desalination Inc.

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