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Spotlight: 2 Mexican desalination projects managing political risk

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, February 07, 2023
Spotlight: 2 Mexican desalination projects managing political risk

The canceled US$453m Playas de Rosarito desalination plant in Mexico’s Baja California state could be moving forward again, while an Israeli firm’s proposal to build the US$5.5bn Puerto Peñasco desalination plant in Sonora has suffered its first setback.

Last June, the Baja California government said it was considering reviving the Playas de Rosarito project near Tijuana after it was canceled in 2020 by then-governor Jaime Bonilla, which led investors to file an arbitration claim.

Baja California’s water management and sanitation minister José Armando Fernández Samaniego has said that negotiations with the Aguas de Rosarito consortium, which was awarded the project in 2016, continue and that works could be resumed. 

"It's not a dispute, it's an international arbitration that is on pause. We have a very good relationship and communication with Aguas de Rosarito," Fernández told local news site El Mexicano on Sunday. 

Aguas de Rosarito – consisting of NSC Agua, Suez Medio Ambiente México and BlackRock – won the 40-year contract to construct and operate the plant under a PPP model. The contract outlines three years to design and build the plant and 37 years of operation and maintenance before handing it over to the state.

Puerto Peñasco desal plant

Back in December, IDE Technologies proposed building a plant in Sonora state's Puerto Peñasco to treat waters from the Sea of Cortez in order to supply the US border state of Arizona, with operations starting up in 2027.

But the Sonora government said last week that it would no longer meet with IDE to discuss the possibility of constructing the Puerto Peñasco plant. 

Via a statement through Twitter, the administration said that governor Alfonso Durazo met with company officials to learn about the technology to desalinate seawater but that the federal government has jurisdiction over the waters of the Sea of Cortez. It also hinted at IDE Technologies using the meeting to further its negotiations with Arizona officials and said it would no longer meet with the company.

"This was a project between the former governors of Arizona and Sonora," the government's official account said.

Earlier in January, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had said that if there was “no opposition” and the project met all environmental requirements, his administration would green-light the project as long as it's built with private investments. Governor Durazo is a member of the president's Morena party and a former member of his cabinet. 

IDE says it still needs a purchasing commitment from Arizona officials before moving forward with the project. The water would be shipped from Sonora through a 328km system of pumps and pipes.

The desalination plant would have the capacity to supply Arizona with 1Bm3/y, but it would also deliver water to Sonora, according to the proposal the Israeli company presented before Arizona’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) in December. 

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