Chapter #292: An Arizona River Dies in the Desert - September 6, 2013

Even in natural light, the carcinogens present in coal smoke are easy to see - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

As Colorado River Water Vaporizes in the Desert, Arizona Faces a New Energy Reality

Recently, the Navajo and Hopi Nations signed a controversial lease with the Arizona public utility, Salt River Project (SRP). Under that agreement, and for the benefit of SRP, the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona will operate until 2044. The primary function of NGS is to provide electrical energy to SRP’s Central Arizona Project (CAP). Using that power, SRP lifts 1.5 million acre-feet of water per annum from Lake Havasu. After pumping it over the Buckskin Mountains, CAP alternately siphons, pumps and uses gravity to transport the water east, to Pima, Pinal and Maricopa Counties.

Like The Colonel's water truck in the desert, Arizona's CAP will keep delivering until the source runs dry - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)While crossing Arizona’s Tonopah Desert, the aqueduct consists of a large, evaporation-trench. From Tempe to Tucson, the water remaining after a scorching trip across the desert might become mist at an outdoor restaurant. Burning eight million tons of Black Mesa coal each year, NGS generates more than enough power to pump a continual flood of Colorado River water across the Arizona desert.

In the event of a power shortage or a shortage of Colorado River water, CAP could economize by curtailing deliveries to both agriculture and its groundwater recharge stations. If CAP water deliveries were to fall below current per capita consumption, either new water connections would halt or consumers would face rationing and shortages. With that, Arizona’s fifty-year construction and population boom would end. With its economy reliant on new residential development and construction, Arizona's ongoing boom could quickly turn to bust.

Aerial view of the Grand Canyon, which is the source for Arizona's Central Arizona Project (CAP) water delivery system - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If CAP water deliveries were to diminish significantly, the Maricopa County might face its second Great Disappearance in less than a millennium. In 899 CE, the Hohokam Indians experienced and then recovered from a flood that devastated their extensive water storage and delivery systems. In the late fourteenth century, major flooding again occurred in the Valley of the Sun. This time, recovery flagged. By 1450 CE, between 24,000 and 50,000 Hohokam Indians had disappeared from the archeological record.

Currently, the Phoenix-Tucson metropolis is living on borrowed time and borrowed water. By “borrowed time”, I mean that California, Arizona and Nevada currently withdraw Colorado River water faster than the watershed upstream can replenish it. By “borrowed water”, I mean that as shortages loom, Arizona’s CAP water rights are subordinate to those of California. Arizona’s current tourism motto is “Discover the Arizona Less Traveled”. In the years ahead, the less traveled part of Arizona may well include Pima, Pinal and Maricopa Counties.

Although more energy efficient than their predecessors, the shear ubiquity of suburban homes in Arizona creates a hardened demand for water - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Over mountains and desert, CAP’s borrowed water travels to an artificial oasis with a population of five million. Arizona's twenty-year development plans are a pipe dream. They call for a future Southern Arizona population of up to ten million. Long before that, the big pipe that is CAP may be running near empty. One does not need to be a climate scientist to see that sustained pumping from a declining Colorado River is not a viable long-term solution. In fact, supplying sufficient water to current users may yet prove unsustainable.

In order to transport their allotment of Colorado River water across the desert, Arizona dumps its environmental responsibilities on the Navajo Nation. From mining, processing, transport and burning of Black Mesa coal, the Navajo and Hopi Nations subsidize profligate water use in Phoenix and Tucson. When it came to producing additional power closer to home, no one in Phoenix wanted a coal-fired power station upwind. Instead, at its Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS), SRP utilized a “clean power source”. Standing in the Tonopah Desert, fifty miles west of Phoenix, the massive complex comprises the largest nuclear power plant in the nation. Tonopah derives from the word Tú Nohwá, meaning "Hot Water under a Bush". In fact, PVNGS is the only major nuclear power plant in the world not situated adjacent to a major body of water.

During a thunderstorm in the Tonopah Desert, rainbows, not lightning strike a diesel rig on Interstate I-10, west of Phoenix - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Owned by a consortium of utilities stretching from El Paso to Los Angeles, PVNGS’s biggest advantage is that it does not burn coal. Since its initial construction in the 1970s, PVNGS has been a magnate for nearby natural-gas-fired “peaker plants”. Each of those natural gas plants consumes cooling water, emits hydrocarbons and heat into the atmosphere. Both the Black Mesa Complex (strip-mine) to the north and PVNGS have a public relations advantage. Located in remote locations, both complexes are out of sight and out of mind. Few in Arizona realize that their lifesaving air conditioning depends on a 3,900 megawatt power plant called "Hot Water under a Bush".

Other than the inherent fragility of 1970’s nuclear power plant design, the main weakness of PVNGS is its cooling loops. As the sole source for their cooling water, all of the Tonopah power plants rely on treated effluent water from Phoenix and other cities. Reduced future delivery of Colorado River water will force conservation on Phoenix. As residents curtail non-essential water usage, demand for CAP water will harden at a lower volume. Inevitably, as Phoenix consumes less fresh water, sewage plant effluent will decrease as well. I do not know how much treated water Phoenix currently has to spare, but that would be an interesting statistic.

Arizona's massive Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station relies on treated Phoenix sewage effluent for cooling - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Although currently recharged with excess CAP water, the Tonopah Aquifer is finite. If Phoenix metropolitan sewage plants currently supply most of their outflow to Tonopah, any decrease in effluent could set off an unpleasant chain reaction. If treated effluent flow decreased, the power plants at Tonopah would resort to pumping from their local aquifers. To see the negative ramifications of such an act, one needs to look no further than to the depleted aquifers of Black Mesa, to the north. Not if, but when the Tonopah aquifers run dry, power production would decrease to whatever diminished level the sewage plants upstream could support.

Pumping of groundwater at Tonopah will only delay the day of reckoning. Even today, sixty percent of Arizona's population relies on groundwater for its domestic water needs. Thus, if history is an indicator, Arizona will soon tap its desert aquifers. When the aquifers make their final retreat, CAP customers will discover a new reality. With insufficient cooling water available at Tonopah, both nuclear and gas-fired generating stations will curtail output. Unless some of CAP's then diminished supply of Colorado River water is diverted directly to the power plants, a downward spiral of SRP power production will ensue.

When gas was 34.9 cents per gallon, coffee at this ghost gas station in the desert was only 25 cents - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Any decrease in water or power deliveries would strain the economy and ultimately, the population of Southern Arizona. In subsequent years, the price of both water and power could exceed many Arizonian’s ability to pay. Unable to revert to its former ranching, mining and semi-rural economy, the outlying suburbs of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties would be the first to go. Old copies of Arizona Highways Magazine might look new again. Ghost towns, like Casa Grande, Arizona could feature both Hohokam ruins and abandoned regional shopping centers, which have gone to seed. Once again, a complete way of life could vanish from the Valley of the Sun.

This is Chapter 2 of a four-part series about coal and water in the Southwest. Whether in power plants or homes, the burning of Navajo Reservation, Black-Mesa-Coal degrades lasting environmental and health effects created by the burning of Black Mesa coal in both power plants and homes on the Navajo Reservation, Read Chapter 3.

By James McGillis at 04:31 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #266: Edward Abbey - Lake Powell 1965 - December 19, 2012

Cover of the original first edition hardcover Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

A 1965 Visit to Edward Abbey's old Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge National Monument

In 1965, when I was seventeen years old, my father and I embarked on a Four Corners States Grand Circle Tour. After our visit to Moab, Utah, including old Arches National Monument, the Book Cliffs and Dead Horse Point, we traveled south. I shall save our stops at the Goosenecks of the San Juan River and Monument Valley for later. First, I shall discuss our visit to Lake Powell and Rainbow Bridge National Monument.

Although Edward Abbey’s seminal book, Desert Solitaire did not appear in print until 1968, I shall quote from that book regarding Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge. Construction of the Glen Canyon Dam topped out in late 1963. When Glen Canyon Dam 1965, with Lake Powell partially filled for the first time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)we visited in 1965, the lake appeared to be about half full. Years earlier, Edward Abbey and his friend, Ralph Newcomb, had rafted down the yet untamed Colorado River through Glen Canyon. Leaving Newcomb at the river, Abbey had hiked to Rainbow Bridge. Abbey’s visit there was an early 1960’s whitewater, wilderness experience. Ours visit was a mid-1960’s powerboat cruise on a placid lake.

Glen Canyon – Like no other occurrence in Edward Abbey’s life, the inundation of Glen Canyon created a psychic scar in the man. He knew that Glen Canyon Dam was the first of three new dams then planned for the Lower Colorado Basin. His determination not to let another Colorado River dam arise became
The author, Jim McGillis at age seventeen, on Lake Powell near Glen Canyon Dam - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)the meta-theme of his book, The Monkey Wrench Gang. Using various characters in that book as a thinly veiled foil, Abbey expressed his own latent desire to eradicate Glen Canyon Dam.

Years before, in Desert Solitaire, Abbey wrote eloquently about a wilderness now submerged, hundreds of feet below the Lake Powell we know today. Following are his words.

Page 122, “We were exploring a deep dungeonlike defile off Glen Canyon one time (before the dam). The defile turned and twisted like a snake under overhangs and interlocking walls so high, so close, that for most of the way I could not see the sky.”

Page 152, “I know, because I was one of the lucky few (there could have been thousands more) who saw Glen Canyon before it was drowned, In fact I saw only a part of it but enough to realize that here was an Eden, a portion of the earth’s original paradise.”
Author Jim McGillis visible under the skipper's arm, prior to departure from Wahweap Marina, Lake Powell in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 156, “That must be where Trachyte Creek comes in,” I explain; “if we had life jackets with us it might be a good idea to put them on now.” Actually our ignorance and carelessness are more deliberate than accidental; we are entering Glen Canyon…”

Page 157, “If this is the worst Glen Canyon has to offer, we agree, give us more of the same. In a few minutes the river obliges; a second group of rapids appears, wild as the first. Forewarned and overcautious this time, despite ourselves, we paddle too far…”

The lower reaches of Lake Powell, where the first Planet of The Apes movie was filmed, as seen in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Page 185, “Farther still into the visionary world of Glen Canyon, talking somewhat less than before - for what is there to say? I think we have said it all – we communicate less in words and more in direct denotations, the glance, the pointing hand, the subtle nuances of pipe smoke, the tilt of a wilted hat brim.”

Page 188, “The sun, close to the horizon, shines through the clear air beneath the cloud layers, illuminating the soft variations of rose, vermilion, umber, slate blue, the complex features and details, defined sharply by shadow, of the Glen Canyon Landscape.”

On Lake Powell in 1965, we approach the entrance to the flooded Glen Canyon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Rainbow Bridge – By definition, a “natural arch” spans an area of dry land. In contrast, a “natural bridge” spans a watercourse. At remote Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a stone torus known as Rainbow Bridge is the most celebrated landform. Before Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, the only way to see Rainbow Bridge was on a river raft expedition. A visit there involved a long wet trip up or down the Colorado River, followed by a tedious, uphill hike at the end. Located almost fifty water-miles upstream from Glen Canyon Dam, Rainbow Bridge now resides in a short side canyon, off Lake Powell.

After our long boat ride from Wahweap Marina, near Page, Arizona, our skipper tied up at a floating dock. When the lake was full, the story went; A forty-foot excursion boat powers past us on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Lake Powell, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)lake water would rise almost to the base of Rainbow Bridge. In 1965, however, we had over two miles of hiking before cresting a ridge and seeing the immutable stone arch called Rainbow Bridge.

Other than a flood in the summer of 1983, Lake Powell has never been full. There are few 1983 photos showing lake water lapping near the base of Rainbow Bridge. Today, perennially lower lake levels call into question the dam’s main reason for being, which is to generate electricity. In late 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior admitted what longtime observers of the Glen Canyon Dam have known for decades – that drought, climate change A Bertram 20 powerboat planes past our boat on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Lake Powell, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and over-subscription of available water will result in permanently lower water levels in Lake Powell and throughout the Colorado River Basin.

In 1965, when I asked our skipper if he preferred the ease of lake travel to a rafting trip, he tactfully said that each method of conveyance had its advantages. He went on to say, he would have preferred that Glen Canyon stay as it had been before the dam. As it was, on our visit, we hiked to Rainbow Bridge over hot, dry land, just as Edward Abbey had done years before. Following are passages from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, describing his raft trip down the Colorado River to Rainbow Bridge.
In the vastness of Glen Canyon, powerboats fade into the distance on the way to Rainbow Bridge, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 186, “We pass the mouth of a large river entering the Colorado River from the east – the San Juan River. Somewhere not far beyond this confluence, if I recall my Powell rightly, is the opening to what he named Music Temple. “When ‘Old Shady’ sings us a song at night,” wrote Powell in 1869, “we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds”.”

Page 188, “The river carries us past more side canyons, each of which I inspect for signs of a trail, a clue to Rainbow Bridge. But I find nothing, so far, though we know we are getting close.
Could this be John Wesley Powell's "Music Temple" as described in his 1868 journal? In 1965, this photo shows that it is about to be inundated by the waters of Lake Powell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
Page 192, “Rainbow Bridge seems neither less nor greater than what I had foreseen. My second sensation is the feeling of guilt. Newcomb. Why had I not insisted on his coming? Why did I not grab him by the long strands of his savage beard and haul him up the trail, bearing him when necessary like Christopher would across the stream, stumbling from stone to stone, and dump him finally under the bridge, leaving him…

Page 193, “But I am diverted by a faint pathway which looks as if it might lead up out of the canyon, above Rainbow Bridge. Late afternoon, the canyon filling with shadows – I should not try it. I take it anyway, climbing a The author James McGillis approaching Rainbow natural Bridge, Utah in 1965 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)talus slope.

Page 193, “From up here Rainbow Bridge, a thousand feet below, is only a curving ridge of sandstone of no undue importance, a tiny object lost in the vastness and intricacy of the canyon systems which radiate from the base of Navajo Mountain.

Page 239, “Through twilight and moonlight I climb down to the rope, down to the ledge, down to the canyon floor below Rainbow Bridge. Bats flicker through the air. Fireflies sparkle by the water-seeps and miniature toads with enormous voices clank and grunt and chant at me as I tramp past their ponds down the long trail back to the Rainbow Bridge, as seen from below in 1965 Kodak Ektachrome image - Click for lager image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)river, back to the campfire and companionship and a midnight supper.

From Wahweap Marina, near Glen Canyon Dam, to Rainbow Bridge is about sixteen miles, as the crow flies. On the lake, our circuitous canyon route was nearly three times as long. As we drank Cokes from steel cans along the way, the cognoscenti told us that we should punch a hole in the bottom of each can before throwing it in the lake. That way, the cans could sink, rather than bobbing half-full on the surface for years to come. Although a nationwide ethic of recycling was still decades away, I pictured snags of drowned trees far below, each festooned with Coke and beer can ornaments.

From 1965, it would be over a decade before Abbey’s motley cast of fictional characters wreaked havoc with infrastructure and land development throughout San Juan County, Utah. To read about those queasily exciting adventures in incipient eco-activism (some say eco-terrorism), please watch Rainbow Bridge, Utah, as seen form the trail above in 1965 Kodak Ektachrome image - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)for my upcoming treatise on Edward Abbey's book, The Monkey Wrench Gang. When posted, you will find it HERE.

By James McGillis at 05:27 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link

Chapter #177: Colorado River Basin At Risk - Ch.4 - April 26, 2011

Solar evaporation ponds at the Cane Creek Potash Mine, Moab, Utah, as seen from the Anticline Overlook - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

Wet Potash Salt Tailings Threaten Colorado River Water Resources 

In October 2010, I had an opportunity to view the Intrepid Potash Cane Creek Facility from the air. After a Redtail Aviation scenic flight over Canyonlands National Park, we turned back towards the Moab airport at Canyonlands Field. As we flew north along the Colorado River, our pilot banked the airplane around the place called Potash. Since the sky was hazy, my near-vertical shots turned out the best. If my earlier ground-level views had been disturbing, they did not prepare me for what I saw from the air.
Solar evaporation at Potash in-situ tailings ponds, as seen from the Anticline Overlook, across the Colorado River - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Disclaimer - Aerial photos are often difficult to interpret. From the distortion of the window glass, to the interplay of light and shadow, the viewer might mistake one thing for another. The following conclusions are mine alone, and are based on the various visits and perspective views that I have experienced at Potash. If Intrepid Potash, Inc., the State of Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (Moab Field Office) disagrees with my conclusions, they might still want to verify the facts for themselves.
When viewed as a unit, an in-situ recovery (ISR) potash mine, the evaporation ponds and the processing and storage structures comprise the Cane Creek Facility. Sitting on what looks like the central bulge of the ancient Cane Creek Anticline, the facility encompasses hundreds of acres. At its highest elevation are the injection sites. While many in-situ mines require both injection and pumping, the salt structures beneath Potash appear to spontaneously eject brine at the surface. From there, wet potash salt tailings run freely to the evaporation ponds. Terraced across the bench land is a set of eighteen large ponds. A smaller set of six ponds extends almost to the edge of a precipice. Surrounding those ponds on both sides are side canyons that empty into the Colorado River.
Intrepid Potash Cane Creek Facility, on the Colorado River, near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If all goes well, the produced water and fine tailings are retained by the evaporation ponds. A plastic lining on the bottom of each pond is designed to prevent groundwater seepage. However, several of my photos showed what appeared to be brine running down from the evaporation ponds. It was most clearly visible in the stream beds leading to the Colorado River. My first thought was that concentrated brine was somehow leaking from the evaporation ponds. As likely as that scenario might be, I quickly thought of an alternative. Perhaps forty years of hydraulic injection mining in this complex of fractured rock had created springs that flow with brine-laden water. If water has interpenetrated subsurface rock formations, it could undermine the ponds or cause a sinkhole. If the underlying structure of the rock is compromised, a large seismic or weather event could destroy the integrity of the earthen dikes that retain the concentrated brine within the ponds. Could the current seepage of brine re-manifest as a salt and fertilizer flood? Directly below that mesa, unprotected by any catch basin lies the Colorado River.
Potash, Utah sits atop a fractured and eroded landform known as a salt dome, viewed from the Cane Creek Anticline near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Looking down at the processing and storage structures from the airplane, I saw potash spilled around it like recent snowfall. Along the roadways surrounding the structures and at the loading area, finished potash and salt spill freely. From there, wind, water and gravity move it down toward the river. When properly applied, potash is an excellent fertilizer. If millions of gallons of concentrated salt and potash were to enter the Colorado river, it could threaten the agricultural and drinking water supply for over fourteen million people.
If the Intrepid Potash Cane Creek Facility represents the current state of the art in potash mining, what can we expect from the upcoming Passport Potash, Inc. mine in Arizona's Holbrook Basin? If the proposed Holbrook Basin ISR potash mine goes into operation, it would immediately become one of the top ten water users within the Little Colorado River Basin. Today, it is rare to Aerial view of the in-situ mining evaporation ponds at Potash, Utah, where brine runs down creek beds and into to the Colorado River, below - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)find wind-powered water wells anywhere in the Four Corners. Historical use of wind-driven pumps for cattle watering and cattle fodder was pumping enough to dry out most Four Corners aquifers. With regional water tables at historical lows, most water sources are now too deep to tap with wind power. No one knows exactly how much the Holbrook Basin aquifer may hold. One can only hope that it is enough.
Most of the water used at the Cane Creek Facility soaks into the ground as brine-laden slurry or evaporates from the settling ponds. In this desert-style solution mining, there appears to be little recycling or reuse of produced water. If not for a steady supply of Colorado River water, the Cane Creek Aerial view, showing brine, potash and salt tailings spread freely around the Intrepid Potash, Cane Creek Facility, at Potash, Utah. Colorado River is in the upper left - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Facility would not be sustainable. If the proposed Passport Potash Holbrook, Arizona Project utilizes solar energy to dry fine tailings, there will be little remaining surface water there to recycle. A gallon pumped from the Holbrook Basin aquifers could be a gallon gone forever.
Before potash mining is approved at the Holbrook Basin play, the public deserves straightforward, honest and complete answers regarding the intentions of Passport Potash and its partners. Here are my questions:
  • Is Passport Potash proposing a conventional mine or an in-situ recovery (ISR) mine in the Holbrook Basin?
  • If it is to be a solution mine, what water sources do they plan to tap?
  • How much water will their one-to-two million tons per year (1-2 mtpy) mine require?
  • If produced brine is injected back into rock strata below, could it raise the salinity of the aquifer?
  • Is there sufficient seasonal inflow to the aquifer, or will the mine require a net annual withdrawal from the aquifer?
  • If there will be a water deficit, what environmental impact will there be on the Holbrook Basin and the Little Colorado River Basin at large?
  • Is the economic development created by ISR potash mines in the Holbrook Basin worth the risk of environmental degradation?
Looking like a Native American Kachina, an underground excavator in Australia creates dry potash salt tailings in - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Before full-scale ISR mining accelerates all over the Four Corners, we need an honest and independent appraisal of its environmental impact. Not bothering to conduct an environmental impact study, the Utah BLM Office recently downplayed the impact of potash mining in the Sevier Valley, Utah. In fact, they published a statement that mining there would have "no impact". With solution mining in the Four Corners, there is always an impact, not the least of which is a trade-off between mineral yield and water usage. Plans are currently underway by both Ringbolt Ventures and Mesa Exploration for ISR potash mines in the Lisbon Valley, Utah. Uranium Resources, Inc. has approval for an ISR uranium mine on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Although still contested in court, plans go forward for extraction of oil sands from the Uintah Basin, Utah. With so many plans underway to divert or pump water into mineral processing, we can no longer ignore the issue of regional water usage. There is not, after all, an unlimited supply. 
As a child, I would often share a milkshake with a friend. From the word, “Go”, we would each suck on our straw as fast as we could until the glass was empty. Shall we now stand by and watch as the quest for oil sands, uranium and potash production dries every aquifer in the Colorado River Basin? Continuing on our current heedless path guarantees a future with water shortages for all.
Author's Note: Article updated 9/2/2017.
Read Chapter One – The Little Colorado River Basin
Read Chapter Two – Holbrook, Arizona Basin - Potash
Read Chapter Three - Holbrook Basin Water Crisis

Read a conversation with a Potash Investor

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By James McGillis at 01:16 PM | Colorado River | Comments (1) | Link

Chapter #139: Moab - Could Floods Happen Here? - December 29, 2009

The Colorado River at Potash, near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Potash, Utah - That Sinkhole Feeling, Again

During a visit to the Intrepid Potash - Moab, Utah website we were pleased to see new safety related information regarding the mining and processing of potash (potassium chloride) and salt (sodium chloride) crystals at their Cane Creek potash plant. In an earlier article, we had criticized the company for not providing holding ponds designed to catch leaks or overflow from settling ponds at a higher elevation.
Their website now states that, “the solar ponds are lined with heavy vinyl to Intrepid Potash-Moab, LLC information sign at the company's Cane Creek Facility near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jameswmcgillis.com)prevent valuable brine from leaking into the ground and the Colorado River. A series of holding ponds have been constructed to catch any spills and return potassium-rich brine to the ponds.” Whether these safety features existed all along, or are recent additions, we do not know. Either way, Intrepid's release of more information about their operation, rather than less is laudable.
In the event of a catastrophic failure at the upper ponds, what percentage of the brine might the holding ponds catch and retain? With the continued absence of information regarding holding pond capacity, we can only guess and hope that it is adequate. “Adequate for what?” you might ask. We can think of at least two scenarios in which a catastrophic failure might test Intrepid's holding pond design and capacity.
Potash settling ponds, perched high above the Colorado River represent a potential flood risk - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
First is weather. What is the expected level of water flow into the settling ponds during a “one hundred year flood”? What about the "one thousand year flood"? In order to determine the size of a one hundred or one thousand year flood within the Shafer Basin and Potash, researchers must consider both historical data and paleoflood records.
Now that a drier climate in the Four Corners region is an established fact, we can expect storm and flood activities to increase in intensity, if not in number. Lack of an historical record does not preclude the formation of larger storms there in the future. In that regard, we would not be happy with a holding pond system that provides less than full containment of all settling pond brine.
No back-up or reserve holding ponds are available to prevent flooding into the Colorado river, shown in the foreground - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
A second threat at the Cane Creek Plant and its ponds results from the solution mining of potash itself. The Intrepid Potash - Moab Utah website indicates that, “water from the nearby Colorado River is pumped through injection wells into the underground mine. The water dissolves the potash from layers buried approximately 3,000 feet below the surface.” Missing from the company’s website is information on injection well locations, and their proximity to the fragile holding ponds.
In order to understand the importance of proximity, we need look no further than the City of Carlsbad, New Mexico. According to a recent Los Angeles Small powerboat moving upstream on the Colorado River, near Potash, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Times article, New Mexico mines used a solution-mining technique similar to that of Intrepid, at Moab. Over the years, six million cubic feet of brine solution mining has been extracted from a salt deposit located directly beneath Carlsbad.
Although there has not yet been a collapse at the Carlsbad mine, in 2008 two similar mines north of the city experienced catastrophic failures. With the collapse of the overlying rock, each of those mines became a sinkhole four hundred feet across and one hundred feet deep. Since the mines operated within state and federal guidelines, there does not appear to be easy recourse against them. The state and the mine operators can simply call these unexpected events “Acts of God” and then proceed to disown any further liability.
A flooded sinkhole caused by brine removal from below the surface, near Carlsbad, New Mexico - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 
In the case of Carlsbad, New Mexico, a collapse under the busiest intersection in town is a real possibility. Rail lines, an irrigation ditch and a mobile home park are now under threat of collapse. In the case of Intrepid Potash – Moab, Utah, no one knows how likely a catastrophic mine collapse might be. In an event similar to the Carlsbad scenario, might the solar ponds disappear into a sinkhole? Worse yet, could gravity cause the brine to cascade downhill towards the holding ponds and the Colorado River below?
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By James McGillis at 06:36 PM | Colorado River | Comments (0) | Link

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Moab, Utah - Lions Club Park - Part 1
Deadly Crude Oil Trains Coming Soon
Metrolink Oxnard Train Collision Report
2015 Rare California Rain Barrels Help
So. California Lakes Soon to Disappear
C.Proietto - Cattolica, Cafe Eden Roco
Hollywood: "Violence is the New Sex"
2014 Spanish Valley Vineyards
Durango & Silverton Railroad Story
Is it Too Late to Save Moab, Utah?
BLM & SITLA - URLEA Subterfuge
Moab Pile to be "Moab Pit" - 2029
Moab in Springtime - May 2014
Old Mesquite, NV - Gone For Good
I-15 North - Mojave Desert Tour
Grand Co. Plans to Desecrate Site
Moab - County Plans Fail the Test
2014 - Quantum Leap in ATM Theft
Moab Kiley - Peaceful BLM Protest
Stop The BLM-SITLA Land Swap
Utah Recreational Land Exchange
Burro Cranes - A Complete History
Moab Burro at Seven Mile Canyon
Brightsource Solar's Flawed Design
Trend - Horsepower Mitigation Fees
Moab Rim Campark Sold in 2014
Durango, CO - Engine #478 - 1965
Durango, CO - Engine #476 - 1965
Red Lake Trading Post, Tonalea, AZ
Deconstruction at Cow Springs, AZ
Cow Springs, Navajo Art - 2013
Navajo/Hopi, New Energy Dilemma
Peabody Coal Stripmine Disappears
An Arizona River Dies in the Desert
Black Mesa Coal - Water & Power
2013 - The Great Western Drought
Homolovi State Park, AZ - No Ruins
C.Proietto Paints at Lago Maggiore
American Bison Herd Threatened
I-40, Twin Arrows - Both Old & New
Interstate I-40 E. Highway Robbery
Simi Valley Brush Fire - Air Power
I-40: Highway Tax Dollars At Work
Kristi Frazier - World Citizen Award
Sierra Nevada, CA - 2013 Drought
Desolation Canyon Wilderness Area
The Holbrook Basin Potash Project
Moab - Revisit Seven Mile Canyon
Moab - Greater Canyonlands N.M.
Thomas Kinkade - Yosemite Valley
C.Proietto Paints Lugano, Gandria
Paso Robles, CA - Wine Adventure
Colorado River Dine & Unwind Moab
Kodiak 100 --> Moab Charter Flight
The True Cost of Mineral Extraction
Moab Truck - 1950 Chevy 3100
Disappearance --> Reemergence
Edward Abbey - His Spirit Returns
Edward Abbey - Monkey Wrenching
Edward Abbey - Lake Powell 1965
Edward Abbey - Desert Solitaire 65
A New Message From AAMikael
C.Proietto Paints Bad Kreuznach
New Jersey - The New Atlantis?
Moab - A Rare Beech B-45 (T-34A)
Howell Mountain, CA - Winemaking
Oakville, CA - Robt. Mondavi Wines
Crescent Junction, UT - in 1955
Craig Childs - Apocalyptic Planet
Mammoth Lakes, CA - 1st. Snowfall
Mesquite, NV - A Disappearing Act
The Mystery of Hovenweep Road
Moab Airport - Canyonlands Field
Moab, UT - Save Ken's Lake Puddle
Jeeps & Downtown Abbey in Moab
Moab Valley vs. Spanish Valley, UT
Moab, Utah - Go Behind the Rocks
Moab Adventure Xstream Race '12
Face on Mars - Is it John Lennon?
C.Proietto - Paints The Dolomites
Moab Tower - The Wireless Story
Brendel, Utah - A History Mystery
C.Proietto - New Mystery Painting
Tsunami Risks Up in Crescent Bays
"Moab Native" Potash Comments
C.Proietto - And The Glory of Rome
L.A. to Australia, by 34-ft. Sailboat
Interstate I-70 East through Utah
Mesquite, NV - Opportunity Lost?
Las Vegas, NV "Drive-by" - I-15N
Ivanpah Valley, CA - Mega-Solar
Pearblossom Hwy. - Palmdale Road
C.Proietto - Venice Sunset, Sunrise
24-Hours of Moab 2012 to Happen
C.Proietto - A Portrait of the Artist
AOL & Yahoo Mail Getting Hacked
ATM Retail Technology - New & Old
C.Proietto - Solving An Art Mystery
Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA
Hollywood - To The Sign & Beyond
Hollywood - Legendary Paul Pink's
Kokopelli Credit Union - New ATM
#1 Google Ranking & How to Get It
C.Proietto - Two New Oil Paintings
LACoFD Truck 8 at Hollywood Bowl
I-405 Golden Crane Air Hazard
Beware: Hoax/Scam Phishing Sites
A Quantum Leap in Super PAC $$$
I-405 Mulholland Bridge Update
Moab Skydiving Video - May 2011
Tonopah Desert, AZ Thunderstorm
Anticline Overlook - Ancient Spirit
ATM Bank Robbery Now Easier Still
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Chaco Canyon - Kin Klizhin Sunset
Chaco Canyon - Kin Klizhin Ruin
Chaco Canyon, Spirit of Lizard Man
Chaco Canyon, NM - Campground
White Mesa, Utah - Uranium Mill
Hidden Costs in Biofuels Revealed
Arches National Park Threatened
Moab Rail - The U. P. Potash Local
Toxic Purple Dust Covers Moab, UT
U.S. Highway 191 in Moab, Utah
Kindle Fire Tablet vs. Nook Tablet
Ken's Lake 2011 Update, Moab, UT
24-Minutes of Moab Kids Bike Race
24-Hrs. of Moab, The Final Sunset?
24-Hours of Moab 2011 Race Start
24-Hrs. of Moab Race Live Webcam
The Long Run - Eagles Tribute Band
Petrified Forest, Going, Going, Gone
Nuclear Dust Storm Hits Moab, UT
Moab Rainbow - August 1, 2011
C.Proietto - The Man From Amalfi
I-405 UCLA Rampage - 11/22/66
Moab Rim RV Campark - 2011
C.Proietto Paints the Amalfi Coast
C.Proietto - Modern Impressionist
I-405 Mulholland Drive Bridge
Moab Pile - Countdown to Disaster
Wigwam Village - Holbrook, AZ
Kathy Hemenway - World Citizen
Desert View Mobil - Needles, CA
Mojave Desert Transit in May 2011
Colorado River Basin At Risk - Ch.4
Holbrook, AZ Water Crisis - Ch. 3
Holbrook Basin, AZ Potash - Ch. 2
Little Colorado River Basin - Ch. 1
Port Orford, Oregon - Tsunami
Hope for Atlantis - Chapter 4
Future of Atlantis - Chapter 3
The New Atlantis - Chapter 2
Atlantis, Myth or Fact? - Chapter 1
Kevin Rutherford - Freightliner RV
WindSong - Ericson 35 Sailboat
Moab Pile - The Mill Tailings Train
Moab Pile - Here Comes the Flood
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - The Race
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - The Start
24-Hours of Moab 2010 - Pre-Race
Moab, Utah - Winter Snowstorms
Happy New Decade - 2011
Save Ken's Lake, Moab, Utah 2010
UPS Air - Moab, Utah Style
Crescent Junction & Brendel, Utah
Green River to Floy, Utah - Video
Moab Ranch - The Movie & Webcam
An Oregon Cascades Range Sunset
The Port at Port Orford, Oregon
Simi Valley, CA Two Live Webcams
Two New MoabLive.com Webcams
Ave. of the Giants, Humboldt, CA
Port Orford, OR - Of Bears & Deer
Goodbye Arizona - We'll Miss You.
Port Orford, OR - Home For Sale
Sun, Moon and the Chakras of Gaia
2010 Super Bowl Advertising
Navajo National Monument Sunset
California Redwoods Elk Herd
A New Decade - The 2010's Begin
Moab - Could Floods Happen Here?
Spanish Valley, UT - Wine & Water
24 Hours of Moab Race - 2009
CA - Rainforest or Dustbowl?
Edward Abbey House, Moab, UT
Kayenta, AZ to Blanding, Utah
U.S. Highway 89 N. to Navajoland
Quartzsite - Black Canyon City, AZ
Simi Valley, CA to Quartzsite, AZ
Phoenix, Moab, The Grand Canyon
Colorado River - A New Challenge
Moab, Utah - The Shafer Trail
2009 - Moab Live Webcam Update
Moab, Utah - Potash Road, Part 2
Moab, Utah - Potash Road, Part 1
SITLA Deal Threatens Uintah Basin
Wildfire Near La Sal Mountains, UT
Moab Ranch - Plasma Flow Event
Mill Creek Canyon Hike - Part Two
Mill Creek Canyon Hike - Part One
Memorial Day 2009, Burbank, CA
A Happy Ending for the Moab Pile?
The Old Spanish Trail - New Again
Mesquite, Nevada - Boom or Bust
Larry L. Maxam - An American Hero
Winter Camping in the Desert 2009
Theory of Everything - Part Four
Theory of Everything - Part Three
Theory of Everything - Part Two
Theory of Everything - Part One
Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah
Access New Energy Now - 2008
The Four Corners States - Part 5
The Four Corners States - Part 4
The Four Corners States - Part 3
The Four Corners States - Part 2
The Four Corners States - Part 1
Moab Wine - Streaming Webcam
BC Buckaroos in Panama
Elton John T-shirt, Now Available
Arches National Park Threatened
BC Buckaroos Are Heading South
San Francisco, A New Energy City?
Seven Mile Canyon, Craig Childs
Matheson Wetlands Fire, Moab, UT
24-Hours of Moab Bike Race Finish
24-Hours at Moab Bike Race, Start
It is Time to Follow Your Passion
New York - The New Atlantis
Translate to Any Language Now
Marina del Rey, Summer Weekend
Seattle Shines in the Summertime
Oregon Battles With Itself - 2008
The Motor Yacht, Princess Mariana
Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park
The Mojave National Preserve, CA
Navajo National Monument, AZ
La Sal Mountains Loop Road, UT
Meet Krista and Mrs. Tipperwillow
The Moab Rim, Above and Below
Colorado Riverway Recreation, UT
Hovenweep - Twin Towers Standing
Aztec, New Mexico - Ancient Ruins
Kin Klizhin Ruin at Chaco Canyon
The Spirit of Pueblo Bonito, NM
Chaco Canyon, NM Sand and Rain
Homolovi Ruins State Park, AZ
ATM Bank Robbery Made Easy
Outstanding World Citizens, Fiji
Planning an Archetype Party
Sir Elton John - The Lost Concert
Start Writing Your Own Blog
My Unification Theory - 2008
Frito-Lay Beach-Trash Explosion
The Great Attractor, Revealed
Vibrational Thought & String Theory
The Long Run - Eagles Tribute Band
2006 Midterm Elections, Revisited
The Lost Mural of Denis O'Connor
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 -Part 10
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 9
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 8
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 7
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 6
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 5
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 4
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 3
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 2
Fiji Islands Paradise 2001 - Part 1
Save Natewa Bay, Fiji Islands
The Fiji Islands - Paradise Lost?
Face on Mars - Is it John Carter?
How Water Helped Make The West
Yahoo! - Fighting Its Last Battle?
Helium Gas, Neither Earth nor Mars
Megatrend vs. Meganiche - 2007
German Hydrogen Bomb Ready
Passing The $100,000 Bill
Google Wins - Microsoft Withdraws
A.Word.A.Day, You Ought to Know
San Fernando Valley Winemaking
Divine Inspiration, Or Nearly So
Japanese Win The Space Race
2007 eCommerce - Made Easy
Discovering The Great Reflector
Navajo National Monument, Arizona
Moab, Utah Memories - 2007
Fall Color, Silverton, Colorado
Autumn Equinox in the Rockies
Hasta la Vista, Taos, New Mexico
Megatrends 2010 - The Book
The Quantum Leap, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon Memories 2007
Flame-Out in Phoenix, Arizona
Annals of Homeland Security '07
Quartzsite, AZ - RV Camping
The Quantum Leap Celebration
Welcome to my new weblog 2007!

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