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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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Photo Credit: David Hyde/ shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

For decades Canadians have lived with a fear that the U.S. will come for their plentiful freshwater. Perhaps not in the form of armed soldiers crossing the border with empty buckets, but through trade agreements and corporate shenanigans. With each U.S. drought, our northern neighbors grow more wary. George W. Bush fanned the flames in 2001 when he told reporters that he wanted to talk to Ottawa about water exports for Texas. And over the years three major Canadian-US export projects were planned (more on that below).

Although we haven’t raided Canada’s hydrologic treasure chest yet, large water transfers across countries, states and watersheds are commonplace. The great hand of politics usually plays a major role in many of these interbasin transfers. The Los Angeles Aqueduct (of Chinatown infamy) may be one of the most well-known in recent U.S. history, as its construction (and backroom politicking) destroyed the farming community of Owens Valley.

As our water pressures increase with population growth, climate change pressures, development and pollution we may well see more of these projects. Here are some that are on the table currently —  some of them are far-fetched and some may actually come to fruition. After a summer where over half the country was in drought, one has to wonder if desperate times will indeed call for such desperate measures. 

1. Sin City Gets Thirsty

Las Vegas has become the poster child for water scarcity in the U.S. The manmade oasis in the desert seems to embody water opulence — giant fountains, green lawns, golf courses, outside misters, canals. All the while estimates say the metropolis’s water source — Colorado River water stored behind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead — is running low. In the next few decades it is possible that Las Vegas’ intake pipes in the lake, which supply 90 percent of the city’s water, may be sucking air.

To be fair, Las Vegas has implemented some water conservation measures: water re-use for businesses and turf removal programs to get folks to give up their lawns. But southern Nevada is still bent on growth, growth, growth. And that means more water. 

A multi-billion-dollar project, which some estimates put as high as $15 billion, would allow the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump groundwater from four rural valleys in eastern Nevada and pipe the water nearly 300 miles to Sin City and its environs.

As Phoebe Sweet wrote for the Las Vegas Sun, “Opponents say the effects of the pumping would be devastating and that the plan would sacrifice a rural, ranching way of life in Eastern Nevada for casinos and tract homes in the south.”

Great Basin Water Network, which is working to protect the eastern Nevada region wrote:

The area targeted for the massive pumping proposal is home to National Wildlife Refuges in Nevada and Utah, important state wildlife management areas, Native American communities and dozens of small, rural agricultural communities who have been living in balance with the limited water supplies of the region for over a century. Great Basin National Park is surrounded by the proposed groundwater pump and export project. 

In August after the Environmental Impact Statement came in, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that, “The federal Bureau of Land Management appears poised to grant the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) rights of way that would allow the pumping of ground water from four eastern Nevada valleys for transport via pipeline to Las Vegas.”

It’s beginning to look like Owens Valley all over again.

2. Lake Powell Pipe Dream