Nothing gets a water wonk excited like a hot debate over transferring water from one part of the country to another (well, a few things get us more excited, but that’s for another blog). While piping massive quantities of Great Lakes water to the south or west would violate the recently-enacted Great Lakes Compact, water supplies in other relatively wet eastern states are not similarly protected. So it’s big news when Pat Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (she is affectionately known as “the 800-pound gorilla of Western Water”) goes to Washington DC to recommend that the Obama administration stimulate the economy by investing billions of dollars in a massive water diversion from the Mississippi River to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer in the great Plains. (Thanks to Michael 'Aquadoc' Campana’s WaterWired blog for the tip.) Here is Mulroy’s quote from a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper article:
"We can't conserve our way out of a massive Colorado River drought. We can't desalt our way out of a massive Colorado River drought," Mulroy said. "If the West is growing drier and the Midwest is growing wetter, I see that as an opportunity."
While she made clear that she isn’t proposing to take Great Lakes water, just Mississippi River floodwaters, Mulroy’s project would still provoke a flood (bad pun) of outrage and opposition in the Midwest and Mississippi basin. She made the proposal at a Brookings Institution policy forum on recommendations for the Obama administration to invest in infrastructure.
Mulroy may have merely intended her proposal to raise awareness of the water allocation problems in the western United States. Still, I fundamentally disagree with Mulroy about the need for massive government projects to move water across the country. Climate change will put even more stress on western rivers, but bringing water with energy intensive and expensive (paid for by taxpayers) pipelines from the east to the west is ridiculous. Water conservation, increased efficiency, market transfers, and better planning are cheaper, better for the health of rivers, and don’t run the risk of a civil water war.
There’s another option as well. Pat Mulroy may see the West growing drier and the Midwest growing wetter as an opportunity to move water from here to there, but I see it as another good reason for people and businesses to move from there back to here.