Here’s a look at hay farmer Gary Hausler’s idea to build a pumpback pipeline from the Mississippi River to Colorado’s eastern plains, from Joe Hanel writing for the Durango Herald. From the article:
The Gunnison rancher wants to build an 18-foot-wide water pipeline from the Mississippi River to a hill south of Denver and bring in enough water for millions more people. But it’s no joke. Some state lawmakers are intrigued by the idea. “Why go to the Mississippi? Because that’s where the water is,” Hausler told the Legislature’s agriculture committees Wednesday. Hausler has a lot of water in mind – 1 million acre-feet a year, about twice the annual flow of the Dolores River at the Utah border. He has been working on his plan for eight years, but in the last six months or so, people have started listening…
“When I started out, people laughed in my face a lot. That doesn’t happen near as much now,” Hausler said. No one was laughing Wednesday morning when Hausler made his pitch to legislators.
“I think we have to look at everything at this point,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. As chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, Curry is one of the most influential lawmakers when it comes to water. Her Senate counterpart, Hesperus Democrat Jim Isgar, also thinks Hausler is on to something. “I actually started raising this a few years ago myself when we were talking about pump-backs from the Western Slope,” Isgar said. Physically, it would be easier to pump Mississippi water west across the gently sloping plains than east from Western Slope water through the Rocky Mountains, Isgar said. “I really think it’s something worth looking at,” Isgar said.
Hausler’s pipeline would provide enough water for 1 million to 2 million households if it were used exclusively by cities. 30-year projectHis numbers are staggering: a 1,200-mile-long system with a 7,000-foot vertical lift; numerous reservoirs and canals; an 18-foot-diameter pipeline; and the equivalent of three new power plants to run the pumps. Hausler thinks it would take 30 years to permit and build, and he admits it wouldn’t do anything to solve short-term water troubles. He envisions a Central Plains Compact among Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri to set the legal framework for the project.
Water law works differently on the Mississippi, Hausler said Wednesday. It’s based not on Colorado’s prior appropriation system, but on the Law of Riparian Rights. Basically, he said, anyone is allowed to take water out of the Mississippi as long as people downstream can’t prove injury.
Hausler’s idea is hardly new. He got the idea, he said, from Exxon engineers in the 1980s, who proposed diverting the Missouri River to Western Colorado for oil-shale production. Hausler doesn’t envision using his pipeline for oil shale, he said. However, the Department of Energy’s 2004 Oil Shale Development Roadmap discusses the possible need to import water to Western Colorado to run a future shale industry. Despite the massive engineering required, Hausler thinks the project could be built with no federal funding because urban water customers would pick up the bill, he said. He predicted a cost of $22,500 per acre-foot.
That’s in line with the cost of new water-storage projects on the Front Range today, said Chips Berry, head of the Denver Water Department. But Berry hasn’t seen a formal analysis of Hausler’s idea, so he’s not sure if the $22,500 cost takes into account everything involved. In particular, water treatment costs would be high because there’s a significant difference between Colorado’s high-altitude, snow-fed rivers and the Mississippi meandering through fertilizer-laden farm country.
Nevada eyes Mississippi, tooBerry has heard similar ideas before, including from Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
He respects Mulroy as one of the nation’s best minds on water. While she’s never made a formal proposal, she has, at times, approached Berry and said:”Have I got a deal for you. I’m going to bring you all the Mississippi River water you need, and you’re going to give me your Colorado River water,” Berry said. “The answer is, ‘The hell I am.’”