PHOENIX (AP) As water levels continue to drop at Lake Powell because of the continuing drought, a $20- million plan is in the works to keep the Navajo Generating Station from shutting down.
The plant near Page was built in part to help run the pumps that deliver Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson through the Central Arizona Project’s (CAP) 336-mile canal.
Without the station, the CAP’s power costs could increase three to five times, which would likely mean higher water prices.
Operators of the generating station now are considering a plan to drill more tunnels deep into the sandstone canyon walls of Lake Powell to keep the power plant operating.
They said if levels dropped low enough to disable Navajo, the hydroelectric plant at the base of Glen Canyon Dam would also be unusable.
Salt River Project (SRP), part-owner and operator of the generating station, would begin construction on the project next year if state and federal authorities signed off on it and if the drought appeared likely to persist.
However, some environmental groups oppose the plan, saying Lake Powell should be drained and the dam decommissioned.
They also said the $20 million would be better spent exploring alternative energy sources that would outlast the generating station, such as solar or wind power.
The station uses up 30,000 acre-ft. of lake water annually as coolant for the three coal-fired generating units.
The water is drawn in through a series of five 54-in.-diameter tunnels that were punched through the canyon walls when the power plant was built more than three decades ago.
The tunnels currently sit at 3,470 ft. above sea level, just 100 ft. below the lake’s current level.
Government hydrologists said if Arizona’s severe drought persists, the reservoir could fall that low as early as 2006.
The new tunnels would be drilled next to existing ones through the sandstone bedrock at 3,350 ft. above sea level.
At that depth, experts say, the station could continue to operate even after Lake Powell reached a level when water can no longer flow past the dam.
SRP officials said construction of the new intake tunnels, which include submersible pumps, would take approximately a year and work could be completed by February 2006.
The $20-million construction cost would be split among the plant’s six owners –– the CAP and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, SRP, Arizona Public Service Co. and power companies in California, Nevada and Tucson.