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5 Crazy Schemes We May Turn to For More Water

Desperate times call for desperate measures: Some of the projects on the table are far-fetched, but others may actually come to fruition.

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The only thing making parts of the desert Southwest livable is the vast plumbing network we’ve concocted. And apparently we’re not done yet. It’s not just the Las Vegas region that is hell-bent on growth, but so are parts of neighboring Utah around the town of St. George in Washington County.  

In 2006 Utah’s legislature approved a pipeline that would tap Lake Powell and send the water over 130 miles to Utah’s Washington, Kane and Iron counties. The decision was spurred by population growth. As Amy Joi O'Donoghue wrote for the Desert News:

St. George, in particular, was growing like non-native weeds out of control. For a one-year period from 2005 to 2006, the St. George metro area was the fastest growing in the country, according to the U.S. Census. The following year it ranked second, with 70 percent of the growth attributed to newcomers.

But critics of the pipeline say that population growth has slowed. O’Donoghue writes:

Then, the economic tempest hit, pushing families into bankruptcy, into the unemployment lines and out of their homes. St. George, Utah's golden girl of growth, wasn't immune, and neither was the state budget.

Eric Millis, deputy director of the Utah Division of Water Resource, figures the recession threw plans for the pipeline into a three-year delay, but the economic crisis has not erased any of [Ron] Thompson's [whose job it is to supply water to Washington County] doggedness in his pursuit of the pipeline, or that of other supporters.

Thompson and others with state water resources believe even with the slowdown in growth, the pipeline will be needed in the next 15 to 20 years. 

Pipeline proponents have another issue to worry about though. Like nearby Lake Mead, Lake Powell may not have enough water for more thirsty consumers. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

The Lake Powell pipeline to Kanab and St. George would cost about $1 billion, and supporters are looking for a loan from the state to build it. But the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a report released Wednesday, say the Colorado River is already overextended — and likely will lose water to climate change, according to government scientists.

Even as existing Southwestern water users frequently drain the river before it reaches the Sea of Cortez, the Bureau of Reclamation predicts a 9 percent decline in the basin’s water by mid-century.

A billion dollars later, there may be a new pipeline for Utah, but nothing to put in it.

3. Friends in Wet Places

In a guest commentary two years ago in the Denver Post, John M. Barbieri and Deborah A. Palmieri suggested that Russia can and should aid the drying American west. With vast water resources, Babrieri and Palmieri say that Russia is “poised to become a major exporter.” And that the U.S. and Russia “should harness the ingenuity, technology and resources necessary to transfer water from remote locations to a thirsty world, including to the U.S. west coast.”

They write:

The key to linking Colorado's water needs and Russia's water surplus is through ocean transportation, which already carries over 95 percent of world trade. Russian water would be delivered to southern California. This new source for California, which has long exceeded its legal allocation of Colorado River water, would allow The Golden State to relinquish supplies long "borrowed" from other user states, including Colorado. This type of land-based "water transfer" is commonplace throughout the western United States today.

Sounds like this may be a little hard to pull off? Don’t worry, it’s already in the works. Almost. They write: