Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

February 25, 2007

Fiercer water wars seen for the West — and coming to the Great Lakes

Filed under: Great Lakes Issues,Water Wars — nemo @ 8:49 am

The Rocky Mountain News summarizes a new study that highlights the water problems facing western states in the not to distant future.

The Colorado River Basin covers portions of seven Western states. The river has an average annual flow of 15 million acre- feet and supports tens of millions of Americans.

As the population boom continues, Western water wars will grow fiercer, water costs will rise and more agricultural water will be diverted to urban use, the report notes. Now, about 80 percent of Western water is used for crop production.

But “the availability of agricultural water is finite,” and all signs point to a future “in which the potential for conflict among existing and prospective new users will prove endemic,” the report says.

“The Colorado River has been called the hardest-working river, but how much more work can it be asked to do?” said study co-author Kelly Redmond, a climatologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.

“The issue of limitations has to be confronted eventually, and it’s just a question of which generation is going to take it on,” Redmond said.

“Down the road, we’ll either decide that the population cannot continue to grow inexorably, or we will have to go to greater and greater lengths to find (other sources of) water and move it to where the people are.

The U.S. has not stemmed the tide of illegal immigration — is it reasonable to assume it can stem the tide of population shifts? Western states are left with their only other alternative — use technology to move water to the people.

Think it can’t be done? Think again — the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) can pump 2.1 billion gallons of oil daily (the equivalent of the current Chicago water diversion from Lake Michigan) from Prudhoe Bay to the Gulf of Alaska at Valdez — that’s 800 miles. Chicago to Denver is 900 miles. Technologically, water is way easier to pipe than oil; for one thing there’s no need to worry about spills.

The study published by the National Research Council is available online: Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability.

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