Westward H2O!

By Julian Smith|Monday, February 06, 2012

The Southwest is struggling with drought. The Midwest is soaking under floodwaters. And there may be one solution to both problems: Shift the floodwaters of the Mississippi 1,000 miles west to the Navajo River, a tributary of the Colorado River.

The engineering firm Black & Veatch has developed a plan that would siphon off 1,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi and move it across the Great Plains and over the Rockies to southwestern Colorado. The concept calls for transferring that gush of water (twice as much as Nevada’s yearly allotment from the Colorado River) through 775 miles of pipe, 110 miles of canals, 85 miles of tunnels, and seven pumping stations that would lift the water as high as 7,500 feet. Basin transfer projects are common in the western United States, but “there’s nothing in operation anywhere in the world on this scale,” says engineer Bruce Moore of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has explored the idea. The price tag is an estimated $11.37 billion.

Opponents say improved water efficiency and conservation are much cheaper ways to safeguard the Southwest’s water supply. Hydroclimatologist Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, calls the proposal “foolhardy and irresponsible economically, politically, and environmentally.” But the Southern Nevada Water Authority is still considering it, says spokesman J. C. Davis. The first big hurdle? “Getting people to stop laughing long enough to ask if it could work.”

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