— WaterForColorado (@water4colorado) August 2, 2014
From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):
“We created the largest artificial watershed in the world,” says Pat Mulroy, the powerful head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a wholesaler that supplies Las Vegas.
Water from the Colorado River is piped across deserts, channeled through mountains, and — after being treated in local sewage plants — winds up in rivers that flow to the southern ends of the country:
- Some of New Mexico’s share goes into the Rio Grande, eventually flowing south and east through Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico.
- What Denver returns to nature flows into the South Platte, a tributary of the Missouri River.
- The coastal cities of Southern California dump a good bit of their diversion into the Pacific Ocean.
None of these water bodies is the logical end of the line for the Colorado River, whose natural terminus is a delta at the northern crook of the Gulf of California. A delta that is, ironically, all dried up…
The river’s web, if some have their way, could become even larger. John Kaufman, the man who proposed the Missouri River pipeline, wants to see the artificial boundaries expand. Kaufman is the general manager of Leavenworth Water, which serves 50,000 people in a town that welcomed Lewis and Clark in 1804 during the duo’s westward exploration.
The identity of the pipeline’s proponent, who was anonymous during the Bureau of Reclamation study and is for the first time being named in the media, is important because of where he lives — outside of the natural Colorado River Basin, or in the extended web.
In Kaufman’s vision, Kansas becomes a hydrological keystone for the West, facilitating water transfers that could affect at least 10 states and Mexico.
“We’d hopscotch water across Kansas and sell it to communities in the state,” Kaufman told me during a phone interview last month, explaining the benefit to his home territory. Construction of the pipeline would also supply jobs to Leavenworth, where the intake facilities would be located. At least one groundwater district in western Kansas is advocating for a similar concept, a Missouri River pipeline to the High Plains to compensate for declines in the Ogallala Aquifer, an essential source for irrigation. Kaufman has presented his idea to state and local officials several times this year.
Once the water flows past Kansas, “it’s a horse trade,” Kaufman said. Water delivered to the Front Range would be earmarked for the South Platte River Basin, which includes Denver. (The South Platte, remember, is part of the Missouri River Basin.) A pipeline would close the circle, sending South Platte water, via the Missouri, back uphill. Of course a few drops of the Colorado would be in the pipe, too.
“It’s a reuse project, really,” said Kaufman, who serves on Kansas governor Sam Brownback’s Missouri River advisory committee…
Then there are the swaps. Front Range cities get roughly 72 percent of their supplies from the Colorado River, according to a 2009 study commissioned by the Front Range Water Council. If water from the Missouri were imported, then some of the trans-Rocky diversions could remain within the Colorado River Basin.
Kaufman’s idea — he calls it the Eisenhower Pipeline, in honor of the sponsor of the interstate highway system, which got its start in Kansas — was included in the Bureau of Reclamation’s final report, but top federal officials distanced themselves from the project, once word leaked a few days before the report’s official release last December.
“In my view, [water import] solutions are impractical and not feasible,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior at the time. The study actually gave the pipeline high marks for technical feasibility, but the $US 8.6 billion price tag and the high energy costs pushed the pipeline to the bottom of the pile. Conservation was the big winner, deemed to be significantly cheaper and able to deliver more water.
Kaufman knows the scheme is expensive, which is why he says that he needs financial buy-in from the states in the Colorado’s Lower Basin and cooperative agreements among all the Basin states in order to shuffle water supplies.
“It’s not about providing water to the Front Range,” he said. “It’s about providing water to the West.”
Here’s a guest column about Colorado’s water plan, written by State Senator Gail Schwartz running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Senator Schwartz has been in the middle of water legislation for most of her time in the state legislature. Here’s an excerpt:
The state water plan will pave the way for water decisions that responsibly and predictably address future challenges. The governor’s executive order detailed that the plan must promote a productive economy that supports vibrant and sustainable cities, viable and productive agriculture, and a robust skiing, recreation and tourism industry. It must also incorporate efficient and effective water infrastructure planning while promoting smart land use and strong environmental protections that include healthy watersheds, rivers and streams, and wildlife.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been tasked with creating the Colorado Water Plan. The board must submit a draft of the plan to the governor’s office by Dec. 10, 2014, and a final plan by Dec. 10, 2015. The CWCB will incorporate the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) and nine Basin Roundtables recommendations to address regional long-term water needs.
As chair of the interim Water Resources Review Committee (WRRC), I will help ensure that the diverse voices of Colorado’s water community are heard during the development of this plan. The 10-member WRRC comprises legislators representing districts in each of the state’s major river basins. The committee has a full agenda as we are charged to review water issues and propose legislation. The WRRC will also remain actively engaged with the CWCB in development of the State Water Plan…
As charged, the water plan has a broad scope and will inevitably need to address difficult and contentious issues. I believe that we should first focus on conservation and efficiency both at the municipal/industrial level and in agriculture. Water conservation is an area with broad consensus. A recent public opinion study of Coloradans identified conservation as the most important water-related issue. Other studies have strikingly demonstrated that 80 percent of Coloradans favored conservation over new construction projects. In 2013, I sponsored SB13-19 which gives landowners a new tool to conserve water without injuring their water rights. New conservation and efficiency tools are needed in the State Water Plan as they stress wise use of our precious water resource.
Conservation may be just one piece of this larger puzzle, and I want to hear what pieces are important to you.
More statewide water plan coverage here.
State Water Plan, meet the “not-one-more-drop-club” from the Grand Valley. Here’s a report from Gary Harmon, writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Colorado should import water to meet burgeoning Front Range demands — and lessen the pressure on the Western Slope to slake that thirst, Grand Valley water officials suggest.
Managers of 10 Grand Valley water agencies and municipalities are preparing to ask their bosses to insist that bringing water into the state [ed. emphasis mine] — which would be known as augmentation — is a needed step in the development of a statewide water plan.
The problem, the water managers have concluded, is that there simply isn’t enough water in the state to meet the demands of growth, particularly on the Front Range, and the demands of millions of downstream Colorado River water users in Arizona, California and Nevada.
“Reallocation of state water resources is not going to do the job,” Larry Clever, general manager of Ute Water Conservancy District, said.
Managers of the agencies sat down together to draft a Grand Valley response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call for a statewide water plan, and they began the process as a “not-one-more-drop club,” Clever said, in reference to any further diversion of water from the Western Slope over the mountains to the east. So any additional drops will have to come from elsewhere, Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, said.
“Our problem is that we’re the cheapest source of good clean water to the Eastern Slope, and there’s no other way around it,” Schmidt said. “We need to find outside water. Actually, we do not. They do.”
The concerns by Grand Valley water managers center on the possibility that the lower basin states will place a call on the Colorado River under the 1922 compact governing the river. “Every time that (the East Slope) takes water from the West Slope, that enhances the chance of a compact call,” that in theory would hit hardest on the Eastern Slope, Schmidt said.
Hickenlooper in May directed the drafting of a statewide water plan, to be complete by December 2014.
The proposed position acknowledges that the Colorado Water Conservation Board estimates that there could be as many as 800,000 acre feet of water available for diversion and storage, but notes there is “considerable doubt” that additional development won’t result in a compact call.
The Grand Valley response would set out nine goals that such a plan would have to include, one of them being “implementation of a long-term, regional water-augmentation plan.” Other goals include protecting the “cornerstones of our economy,” agriculture, resource extraction, recreation and tourism; preparation for the possibility of a compact call; protecting the health and quality of the state’s river basins; and preparing for the effects of climate change.
Other goals include protecting and promoting the area’s agricultural heritage; preserving local control of planning for development; ensuring federal agencies operate within state water law; and ensuring that upstream diversions protect and maintain water quality for downstream users.
Ultimately, “it is imperative for state officials to engage officials from the federal government and other basin states in developing, implementing and paying for an augmentation plan” that will benefit all the states dependent on the Colorado River, the proposed position says.
The proposed position will go before the governing boards of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade, as well as Clifton Water District, Grand Valley Irrigation Co., Grand Valley Water Users Association, Mesa County Irrigation District, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Ute Water.
Statewide Water Plan coverage here.
Colorado River Basin: Recent study by the Bureau of Reclamation highlights future supply problems #coriverMarch 4, 2013
Here’s a guest column running in The Denver Post, written by Allen Best, that gives an overview of the current state of the Colorado River. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Tow icebergs from Alaska? Pilfer from a tributary of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming? Or, even sneak water from the Snake, boring a 6-mile tunnel from a reservoir near Jackson Hole to the Green River? While it’s sure to make Idaho’s spud farmers cranky, it would help Tucson, Los Angeles and that parched paradigm of calculated risk, Las Vegas.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and everybody else with a megaphone has carefully branded these ideas as improbable or worse. Only slightly more credible is the idea of a pipeline from the Mississippi River. It could originate near Memphis, traverse 1,040 miles and, if reaching Castle Rock, rise 6,000 feet in elevation. Pumping would require a steady 800 megawatts of electricity, or a little more than what the Comanche 3 power plant in Pueblo produces.
In theory, this 600,000-acre feet of muddy Mississippi would replace diversions from the Colorado River headwaters between Grand Lake and Aspen. Those diversions range between 450,000 and 600,000 acre-feet annually. That would leave the creeks and rivers to the whims of gravity and geography, at least until arriving at Las Vegas and other places with growing thirst.
Cheap water? Not exactly: It would cost $2,400 per acre-foot for this Memphis-flavored sludge, assuming the idea isn’t grounded by protests from barge and riverboat operators. (Sometimes they, too, say they need more water.)
From The New York Times (Felicity Barringer):
The federal government has come up with dozens of ways to enhance the diminishing flow of the Colorado River, which has long struggled to keep seven states and roughly 25 million people hydrated…
…also in the mix, and expected to remain in the final draft of the report [ed. Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study], is a more extreme and contentious approach. It calls for building a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver, nearly 600 miles to the west. Water would be doled out as needed along the route in Kansas, with the rest ultimately stored in reservoirs in the Denver area…
The fact that the Missouri River pipeline idea made the final draft, water experts say, shows how serious the problem has become for the states of the Colorado River basin. “I pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s,” said Chuck Howe, a water policy expert and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But it’s no longer totally unrealistic. Currently, one can say ‘It’s worth a careful look.’ ”
The pipeline would provide the Colorado River basin [ed. Denver, Kansas, etc., are not in the Colorado River Basin] with 600,000 acre-feet of water annually, which could serve roughly a million single-family homes. But the loss of so much water from the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, which require flows high enough to sustain large vessel navigation, would most likely face strong political opposition…
Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said that during the course of the study, the analysis done on climate change and historical data led the agency “to an acknowledged gap” between future demand and future supply as early as the middle of this century.
That is when they put out a call for broader thinking to solve the water problem. “When we did have that wake-up call, we threw open the doors and said, ‘Bring it on,’ ” she said. “Nothing is too silly.”[...]
It is unclear how much such a pipeline project would cost, though estimates run into the billions of dollars. That does not include the cost of the new electric power that would be needed (along with the construction of new generating capacity) to pump the water uphill from Leavenworth, Kan., to the front range reservoirs serving Denver, about a mile above sea level, according to Sharlene Leurig, an expert on water-project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group based in Boston that works with investors to promote sustainability.
If the Denver area had this new source of water to draw on, it could reduce the supplies that come from the Colorado River basin on the other side of the Continental Divide.
But [Burke W. Griggs] and some federal officials said that the approval of such a huge water project remained highly unlikely.
Ms. Leurig noted that local taxpayers and utility customers would be shouldering most of the expense of such a venture through their tax and water bills, which would make conservation a more palatable alternative.
More Missouri River Reuse Project coverage here.
From Forbes (Peter Gleick):
Water transfers from the Great Lakes or the Mississippi River or Alaska and Canada to the arid southwestern U.S.
These are perennial favorites: people look at the vast amount of water in the Great Lakes, or flowing down the Mississippi River, or flowing north to the Arctic Ocean and think, gee, what could make more sense than to take that water and move it to where we really need it, like California or Arizona or Las Vegas. After all, we’ve been moving water around since the beautifully designed Roman aqueducts, and even earlier. But most of these mega-projects are zombies – killed off years ago, only to linger, undead.
Patricia Mulroy, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority, recently revived the idea of moving floodwaters from the Mississippi River all the way to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to free up Colorado River water that could then be given to feed Las Vegas. Fear that similar projects would take water out of the Great Lakes led to a provision in the new international agreement signed by the U.S. and Canada that effectively prohibits transfers of water out of the basin because of fear that such diversions would lower the Great Lakes levels and threaten the health of fragile natural ecosystems. And of course there is the granddaddy of all water diversion proposals – called NAWAPA (the North American Water and Power Alliance) – proposed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a consulting/construction company to divert around 150 million acre-feet of water annually (ten times the flow of the Colorado River) from the Yukon, Copper, Kootenay, Fraser, Peace, and other Alaskan/Canadian rivers all the way east to the Great Lakes and south to the southwestern U.S. and even Mexico. And a smaller version of this zombie is the Million Conservation Research Group proposal (named after Aaron Million – if it had anything to do with the cost, it would be the Billion Conservation Research Group) to build a pipeline from Wyoming to eastern Colorado to take 250,000 acre-feet of public water to sell for private gain. Professor Robert Glennon from the University of Arizona quipped that he sees many obstacles to the project, “not the least of which is the Rocky Mountains.”
These mega-projects are certainly technically feasible: there’s no mystery to building dams, aqueducts, pumping plants, and pipelines. What kills these projects is their massive political, environmental, and economic cost. They would cost tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars and lead to vast environmental destruction and devastation. Half a century ago, we didn’t know about the ecological consequences of massive water diversions, or we didn’t care, but those days are over. On top of this, any such project would require unprecedented political and legal water sharing agreements and anyone who believes such agreements can be reached is living in a fantasyland. But that doesn’t stop these zombies from periodically coming back to life.
More pipeline projects coverage here.