Water Supply for the Havasupai Indian Reservation

Within the United States, there is only one Post Office which is not serviced by mail delivery by vehicles on paved roads. There is a very small Indian Reservation in northern Arizona called the Havasupai. Their one community lies on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

They offer a Tourist destination, where a person can essentially spend several days as if a member of the community, in other words, doing chores with all the Indians there. This involves making arrangements and then parking your vehicle in a small parking lot on a dead end road many miles from their Reservation (which is somewhat troublesome when the vehicle is a bright red Corvette which will be left alone for a week in the desert!) One then waits and watches across the desert for a small mule train to appear in the distance! Riding for many miles across a desert on a mule is NOT particularly comfortable, but eventually you (and another mule carrying your luggage) get to the Reservation.

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Life in that Reservation is interesting, but a prominent aspect is that water is treated very dearly and never wasted.

I later learned in 2006 that they consider their need for water to be desperate and they were trying to get the Federal Government to run a new and larger pipeline across the desert (nearly 100 miles) which takes water from a larger water supply pipe, but the Government seemed not to want to spend the many millions of dollars to build that larger pipeline. They had an existying supply of water of about 28 gallons per minute, and their needs required about 70 gallons per minute.

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Such a long pipe across a desert causes the water to become extremely hot during the daytime, which accelerates rusting and corrosion of steel or iron pipelines, along with enabling and accelerating algae and bacteria to grow during the many hours the hot water is within that long pipeline.

In 2006, I had contacted several Indians in that Havasupai village, in trying to offer to them, for free except for the cost of the materials and the labor of workers to install the materials, a very unique water pump which I had invented in 2005.

When I visited the Grand Canyon South Rim Village in May of 2005, I (again) hiked down the Bright Angel Trail down into the Canyon, and (again) saw the large pipe that the government installed to pump water from the Colorado River up for use in the South Rim community of the Grand Canyon National Park. Down near the bottom, near the Colorado River, there is a pumphouse where a major electrical supply line serves the electrical motors in that pumphouse. That is the traditional approach to pumping water, but that is a rather inefficient process which has some serious disadvantages.

In order to pump Colorado River water up the 5,000 vertical feet up to its use on the South Rim, the pumps must apply amazingly high pressure to the water, around 160 atmospheres or 2,400 PSI pressure. This very high pressure requires very special pumps, as more conventional water pumps are generally limited to raising water pressure up 100 PSI or 200 PSI. Such very high pressure pumps tend to require nearly constant repair and maintenance, as they are actually a set of multiple pumps which each boost the pressure sequentially, so the complexity of the technology of very high pressure pumps is substantial. Another major complication of such very high pressure systems is that all the (mile of) piping which goes up the side of the Canyon must be especially thick and strong regarding bursting. Standard water piping generally is strong enough to supply 100 PSI water, and so such piping is designed to have Bursting Strength of around 300 PSI. For piping to supply water at 2,400 PSI, the piping must have a Bursting Strength of at least 7,000 PSI, which therefore means extremely thick and expensive piping.

The US government paid to have such very high pressure pumps and piping installed by 1966, where the pumps used each could supply 520 gallons of water up to the community on the South Rim. That was sufficient for some years, although the pumps used up amazing amounts of electricity to do their job, and a LOT of maintenance was constantly required by them. In September 2000, they replaced all their pumps with 750 horsepower pumps, which each can now pump a maximum of 640 gallons per minute. The Technician I talked to didn't seem toknow how many pumps they have or how many are in use at any given time.

As a Physicist, I immediately did some calculations! A 750 horsepower pump motor draws about one MegaWatt of electrical power (about the same as a thousand residential homes averages!) Due to frictional losses in the equipment, only about 560,000 Watts of power gets put into the water, mostly to produce the very high pressure needed to push the water a mile vertically upward. The maximum flow rate they describe is 640 gallons per minute or about 5,000 pounds of water per minute, each raised that 5,000 vertical feet, or 25 million ft-pounds per minute of actual water flow. Since one horsepower is equal to 33,000 ft-lb/min, they are describing the THEORETICAL maximum of water flow from a 100% efficient use of 750 horsepower. I suspect they actually RECEIVE substantially less water flow than that up at the South Rim Village.

My water pump is extremely unique in that ALL the water in the entire system is always at NATURAL PRESSURE of 15 PSI atmospheric pressure. Therefore, my system does NOT need any high pressure pump nor any piping that must have any Bursting Pressure beyond conventional water piping. In addition, because of not requiring those two conventional needs, the overall efficiency of my pump system is around 97% (or even slightly higher) where the conventional high pressure pumping and piping systems commonly have overall efficiencies of less than 40%. A series of small one-horsepower electric motors drive my standard small system, each raising the water one hundred vertical feet (using the same calculations as above, that is about 330 pounds of water per minute or about 40 gallons per minute (which is far better than the current water supply to the Havasupai Village, while using inexpensive motors and materials, and while using far less electricity to pump that water. My system also does not have the complexity of conventional approaches to very-high-pressure pumps, so maintenance and repair are very rarely needed.

All water pumps include filters to keep debris from being sucked into the pump, to reduce the mechanical problems that tend to happen to very high pressure pumps, but my system actually does not require such filtering. In fact, my system has a very peculiar characteristic of being able to have a live fish be drawn in and pumped upward, without any damage to the fish! I demonstrated this in 2005 with two goldfish, where my demo raised the fish about 30 feet and dumped them into a raised goldfish bowl! No other pump could have done that without killing the fish in the process, due to the pressure and water turbulence that conventional water pumps must cause.

I had contacted the government Offices of the Grand Canyon South Rim Village late in 2005, to let them know that a far more efficient water pumping system was available, but I realized that they would not have any interest since their water supply system was already paid for and in place (in just late 2000). So I did not receive any response from the government regarding my (free) offer.

But when I learned in early 2006 about the great concerns of the Havasupai Indian Reservation regarding their water supply being too limited for their community, I realized that their situation was an ideal application for my pumping system. Instead of requiring millions of dollars of piping across many dozens of miles of desert from an existing municipal water supply pipe, my system would have enabled the Havasupai to raise their own water directly from the Colorado River directly below their Village! Installation of that entire system would have been far less than ONE million dollars, and its operating cost of then forever supplying as much water as they might want would be minimal. In fact, I even included in my comments to the Havasupai that they would also be able to raise enough extra water to be able to irrigate some land where they might then grow their own fruits and vegetables!

But I guess the mentality of the total dependence of Indian Tribes on the US Federal Government is overwhelming, and they appear to be satisfied in forever depending on the Government to supply their water. I found that very sad, as I had hoped to provide their Havasupai Village with an INDEPENDENT water supply, which THEY would have owned and maintained. My hope was to try to renew the sort of independence that Indians used to have in America prior to around 1800 AD, but my impression is that they no longer even care about ever having such independence ever again. But I TRIED to help them, and at absolutely no profit for myself!

No response from any of the Havasupai ever arrived back to me, with the single exception of receiving a promotional brochure in the mail some weeks later that presented the tourist destination idea.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in Sept 2012.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago