My son Stuart sent the following thoughts to me in an e-mail. I believe his ideas are sound, and I decided to post them in my blog. What do you think?
Others have said this before, so I have to give others the credit, but I think it bears repeating.
Our nation as a whole does not have a water shortage problem, only a water distribution problem. The Mississippi River Basin more often than not has a great surplus of fresh water, most of which flows unused into the Gulf of Mexico where it is lost for good until replenished by more rainfall. Meanwhile, as all of us know, the American Southwest is parched, with its reservoirs drying up and even Lake Mead and Lake Powell having dropped to 1/3 of their normal levels – historic lows for both. For those towns and cities not supplied by the Colorado River, subterranean aquifers are slowly being drained – once those are gone they can never be replaced (this is happening on the Great Plains too).
Desalination plants, while a great idea, in and of themselves can only benefit coastal areas and will do nothing to push water to the inland cities of the Southwest. Again, a distribution problem. Pumping water over the hills (or uphill) to Bastow, Modesto, Redding, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City would require just as much energy from the West Coast as from the Mississippi Valley. Using desalination to remove West Coast cities and municipalities from the Colorado River equation would buy more time, but if this current drought lasts for decades as many believe it will, more water would still be required than desalination can possibly replace. Also, let’s not forget – desalination requires a LOT of energy in and of itself.
So, why not pump the Mississippi’s surplus water up over the Continental Divide and into the Colorado River’s tributaries and let the already existing system of reservoirs and canals take care of the distribution via gravity? Think of a series of pipelines in the approximate locations of the Arkansas and South Platte Rivers, only operating in reverse and only during periods of Mississippi water excess. And if that were not enough, consider a pipeline from Lake Superior through the region of the South Platte as well, again only to be utilized during periods of water excess to the Great Lakes.
Having said all of this, if the Southwestern states want this, the Southwestern states should have to pay for it. It’s not like they don’t have the money, and anyway – unlike the Interstate Highway System – people not residing in the Southwest are unlikely to see any benefit from such a system other than the jobs and agriculture (and people) this will sustain.
Think about it. This is really nothing more than a redistribution of excess wealth in the form of water, which means Democrats should support it, and it would be a massive infrastructure undertaking providing lots of jobs meaning Republicans should support it. Although it will do nothing to slow the effects of climate change as regards vegetation die-off and wildfires, at least water would be one less thing to worry about.
Perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.