Legal requirements of seawater desalination in Mexico

On 19 June 2014, the governors of Sonora and Arizona signed an agreement to assess the feasibility of building a binational desalination plant in the Gulf of California to meet the water needs of the two states. This plant may be located in Rocky Point or Puerto Libertad, coastal locations of Sonora, Mexico located in the Gulf of California (El Imparcial, 21 June 2014).

As part of this initiative, researchers from El Colegio de Sonora and the University of Arizona, supported by the International Water Security Network (IWSN), are initiating studies on the feasibility and potential impacts of a seawater desalination project in the region. The theme of seawater desalination is a relatively new issue in Mexico; the word ‘desalination’ was first mentioned in the 2004 reform to the National Water Law.

In an article published in the May/June edition of Agua y Saneamiento (pp. 89-91), Nicolás Pineda from El Colegio de Sonora discusses the desalination process and policy considerations in the context of the potential establishment of a desalination plant. He addresses the current Mexican policy framework and how it fits several aspects of the desalination process, including the harvest of seawater, the desalination process and its waste products, potential challenges and legal, social and environmental concerns of desalination, and the legal norms of export.

He briefly reviews the three critical processes relevant to design a public policy on water desalination in the Gulf of California and its possible export to the U.S.: the removal of the seawater; disposal of wastewater or brackish water; and export of desalinated water to the United States. He outlines the requirements that must be taken into account to establish a seawater desalination plant that could draw water from the Gulf of California and export the water through an aqueduct to the United States and intends this article to serve as a basic guideline to define a policy on this issue.

He discusses three critical steps in the process: an environmental impact study; permission to use the land at the potential site, and an assessment of the energy required to run the plant. Pineda writes that cooperation and positive economic relations between the US and Mexico, and the states of Arizona and Sonora, are a prerequisite of water export, though he believes the project will foster mutually beneficial cross-border opportunities.

The article, written in Spanish, is available here.