Floating Ideas for Saving the Ever-Diminishing Colorado River


As with many other resources that we used to take for granted back in the 20th century, water is becoming more scarce. That’s particularly true in the case of the Colorado River, which seven states and roughly 25 million people depend upon for their daily water needs.

Building a pipeline to solve rising water demand is kind of like buying a bunch of typewriters and bicycles to increase newspaper circulation. It’s going to be slow and expensive, and it doesn’t really matter if it works because it’s not a long-term solution.

There are a number of ideas floating around to tackle the growing demand on the river, but The New York Times referred to one of those proposals as “more extreme and contentious.”

The idea in question is said to be in a report that was released yesterday by the Bureau of Reclamation that suggests building a 600-mile pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver. It’s a notion that reminds some people of the water projects of—you guessed it—the 20th century.

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The Times quoted Chuck Howe, a water policy expert and emeritus professor of economics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as saying that he, “pooh-poohed this kind of stuff back in the 1960s.”

Howe told TakePart that, “In the 1960s, there just wasn’t the urgent need for large infusions of water. Huge amounts were available from agriculture-to-urban sales or leases—agriculture consumes 80 percent plus of all western water—or simple conservation by municipalities to accommodate increased population. Environmental protection was just beginning to be recognized as important.

“Now the Colorado is seriously depleted, not reaching the Gulf of California and killing off the great Delta in Mexico. My guess is that there is widespread concern across the U.S. about the Delta and probably a willingness to pay for supplementing those flows. The Upper Basin States' real fear is that climate change will deplete Lakes Powell and Mead and result in a ‘call’ on the Upper Basin States that would shut off vital water that is diverted from the western side of the Rockies to the eastern slope urban areas and agriculture. This could be the result of sticking with the status quo,” and Howe worries that old water wars could begin again.

But Jason Bane of Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law and policy organization, told TakePart that, “Building a pipeline to solve rising water demand is kind of like buying a bunch of typewriters and bicycles to increase newspaper circulation. It’s going to be slow and expensive, and it doesn’t really matter if it works because it’s not a long-term solution.”

“Building pipelines and dams and reservoirs—that’s what water providers did 50 years ago because they didn’t have any other ideas,” Bane said. “Even if it made sense to build a pipeline—and it doesn’t—where would we find $11 billion dollars? Who then picks up the tab? Taxpayers? Ratepayers?”

He added that, “You can’t build water, and that’s the real problem. Water is a finite resource. We are using more water than we can sustain, particularly in the lower basin states of California and Arizona, and population growth is going to exacerbate the problem. The good news is that conservation, efficiency and reuse can meet future demands if they are implemented as specific strategic programs. In many cases, these programs cost little to no money.”

Bane provided an example of something he said could be put in place in a matter of weeks:

“Local or state governments in the Colorado Basin could mandate that all new residential developments must be built with high-efficiency [HE] shower heads, faucets and toilets. Many HE fixtures are priced in the same range as standard fixtures, so there would be no additional costs for homebuilders who need to buy new fixtures anyway.”

“High-efficiency fixtures can cut indoor water use by 50 percent compared to standard fixtures, and the conservation savings add up quickly. If 300,000 new homes were built with HE fixtures, the water savings would be enough to meet the needs of 60,000 people—all at no additional cost to governments, developers, taxpayers or ratepayers. The savings could add up quickly, and we haven’t even touched on what can be done with commercial development, outdoor watering, etc.”

In the meantime, it might be a good idea—for your benefit and the environment’s—to brush up on your water-saving skills.

What do you think about the idea of building a water pipeline? Tell us in the COMMENTS.

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Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence | TakePart.com