It's time for Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the feasibility of moving water West

The Old River Control Structure regulates the flow of water leaving the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya River in Vidalia, Louisiana.
The Old River Control Structure regulates the flow of water leaving the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya River in Vidalia, Louisiana.

Numerous letters (including mine of June 30) have commented recently on the possibility of moving water from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River at Lake Powell (Glen Canyon dam on the Utah/Colorado border) and then downstream to Lake Mead (Hoover Dam/Las Vegas) and on through Arizona and beyond. Some of these letters are supportive and some not. The whole point of suggesting this solution to the Southwest’s water problem is to generate a public demand to the Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the feasibility of such a project.

I suggested diverting 250,000 gallons/second, which is only about 5% of the flow on the lower Mississippi south of the Old River Control Structure (ORCS) in Central Louisiana 300 miles above New Orleans. This water does nothing except flow out into the Gulf of Mexico. It generates no electricity and doesn’t help commercial shipping or recreational boating. It only causes flooding problems in New Orleans. No state above the OCRS would suffer any loss of water.

If 250,000 gals/sec is impractical, have the Corps consider a flow of 125,000 gals/sec (only 2.5% of the downriver flow), which would take two to three years to fill Lakes Powell and Mead. This is a rather rapid and reasonable time frame to solve the water problems of the Southwest.

The reason the Old River Control Structure is so important is that it already has the infrastructure used since the 1950s to currently divert 30% of the southbound flow of the Mississippi above the OCRS over to the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana and down to the Gulf of Mexico. No further investment in building a diversion system would be needed. All you need is a big concrete-lined ditch to go to the Colorado River.

Yes, this would require massive pumping stations to lift the water up the Continental Divide at some point (the lowest lift would be 4,000 feet in Campbell, New Mexico, close to Albuquerque), but then it would be all downhill using gravity to Lake Powell or somewhere else on the Colorado above the Glen Canyon Dam. One writer suggested a series of windmills to generate the electricity, but, of course, you would need holding basins for those times when the wind isn’t blowing. That would be the Corps’ job to figure out exactly how to generate the electricity.

The California Aqueduct from Sacramento to Los Angeles (average 110 feet wide x 30 feet deep) has a capacity of about 100,000 gals/sec. The Edmonston pumping station at the south end of the California Aqueduct lifts that water up 2,000 feet over the Tehachapi Mountains into the Los Angeles basin.

Those old pumps (installed in the early 1970s) have a capacity of 33,333 gals/sec, which is why there are storage lakes to smooth out the excess flow. The Corps has already installed pumps in New Orleans with 5 times the capacity (150,000 gal/sec) of the Edmonston pumps to prevent flooding. The Corps thus already has the experience of pumping these huge amounts of water.

It is roughly 1,400 miles from the OCRS to Lake Powell, but that really means building 1,400 miles of something similar to an interstate highway. The U.S. has already built 47,000 miles of such highways, so another 1,400 miles doesn’t feel insurmountable.

Water conservation on the part of everyone living in the Southwest is certainly important, but conservation simply can’t do the job. Los Angeles couldn’t exist without the California Aqueduct. Phoenix and other cities in the Southwest are in the same boat. Their future survival depends upon finding large amounts of new water.

Don Siefkes lives in San Leandro. Email him at  

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Army Corps of Engineers must study feasibility of moving water West