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Time for Army Corps of Engineers to investigate moving water West? (desertsun.com)
74 points by danboarder on Aug 1, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 317 comments

In terms of where the water comes from, sourcing at Old River Control makes a lot of sense. From there the water really does pretty much run into the Gulf of Mexico, and there is no downstream irrigation, power generation, or shipping impact from a 5% diversion. But the writer makes the engineering sound trivial, when it's really not. The first thousand miles are all uphill, so you're not talking about a canal, as the author implies, but rather a pipe. And not a small pipe either. If you move the water at a velocity of a meter per second through a single pipe, you're looking at a pipe 40 meters in diameter. And you have to push that against a head of 4000 ft net. Obviously, you'd want to pump at multiple points with intermediate reservoirs to stage the pressure gradient - otherwise you'd have a static pressure of 1800 psi in the pipe at the source. But when you roll up the pipe, the reservoirs, the pumps, and the multiple power plants to run it all, you're talking about a lot more than the garden hose across Texas the author wants to make this sound like.

And much of this is across already arid, water starved land. I'm guessing West Texas and New Mexico will want their own cut of water in return for permitting the project to cut their states in two. You might need to double your total take to satisfy everybody.

Those sound like big numbers but unless my napkin math is very wrong it's not even an order of magnitude more than existing Californian water projects like the California Aqueduct [1]. 1 m/s flow through a 40 m diameter pipe is 1256 m^3/s which is less than four times that of the CA aqueduct at 370 m^3/s and the distance is five to six times depending on how you measure it at 2000-2400 miles compared to 440 miles. Just one of the pumping stations along the CA aqueduct pumps that water up about 2,000 feet at 2,000 PSI so the elevation change is barely a factor of two more.

The California Aqueduct was a megaproject that started over 70 years ago and the aforementioned Edmonston Pumping Station was turned on in 1973. At this point, the biggest challenge would be the right of way and litigation since the engineering has long been a solved problem. Those in California can go see the aqueduct exit the Sierra Nevada mountains at the edge of Bakersfield [2] and hiking trails around Lake Isabella intersect with open parts of the aqueduct where you can see all the water rushing by (don't fall in!). Imagine that, but like five or six times bigger.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Aqueduct

[2] https://a.scpr.org/69978_86cbed2aa8b2e426383678de0f659072_or...

I don't doubt it's doable. But I don't think "barely an order of magnitude" quite captures the scale of the engineering. The Edmonston pumps, e.g., while they do raise water nearly 2000 feet, only move it a couple of miles, and have a capacity roughly 1/8 of what this proposal requires. Most of the California project can be gravity "pumped" canals. But there isn't much of the route from Louisiana to NE New Mexico that is or can be made to be downhill. There is way more than an order of magnitude more pipe and pumping to be built and provisioned in this proposal.

> the biggest challenge would be the right of way and litigation

I totally agree. I live in SoCal and there are some infrastructure projects that took forever (ie creating the I105 and finish connecting the I210), or will probably never get completed (ie. finish connecting the I710 and California High Speed Rail) all because of right of way issues and lots of law suits.

The I710 extension has been officially dead for almost a decade - CalTrans has probably finished selling off all the property they bought by now. I grew up in South Pasadena, the little 25k pop town that killed it, and it was a big deal because tons of money finally became available to repair our shitty roads and stop the hemorrhaging of the school district.

I always thought the schools were supposed to be awesome in South Pas. No?

Yes and no. The middle/high school had more great teachers than I can remember and many of the students came from families that placed great importance on education but the legal battle to stop the I710 extension was a disaster for the city budget. My freshman year in high school we didn't even have a history class and by sophomore year the elementary schools completely cut their arts and music programs as part of a $3 million district budget cut. Can you imagine elementary school without art!? Meanwhile, the booster club raised $4 million to replace the grass with fake turf on the football and baseball fields (also a disaster that cost the school money down the road).

Granted, this was during the great financial crisis so they may be doing better now.

> power plants

I was curious, so some rough estimates: About 1m kg of water per second, lifted about 1km implies about 10GW of continuous power, or about 86 TWh annually assuming the scheme runs continuously, which is about 2% of annual generation. So enormous, but on the scale of feasible, a bit to my surprise.

Could the pumping uphill also be turned in reverse to serve as a battery? Like, you don’t want to power this with coal, but solar. Maybe this could produce a lot of energy storage potential (albeit in the “wrong” place—but if you have local water, energy and job, it could create some new places!)

I'd expect you could at least recover some of the electricity with hydropower on the California side.

the technical term you're looking for is "pumped storage hydropower"

As someone who moved to LA in the early 70s, and left LA in the late 80s, and spent some time to visit Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, I can say with full confidence that anyone with a lick of sense knew there was not enough water to sustain that growth that started back then, but that didn't stop anyone from building or buying those homes. They all knew it, but didn't care.

It was, and still is, plain old stupid to build those giant cities in those barren deserts. The idea that we'd all have to pay for pipelines to push that water all those miles feels a bit painful to me now, and the complete lack of any discussion about the environmental impact of doing this very bothersome too.

There are many other issues to consider, like the quality of that Mississippi water. They don't call that river "The Big Muddy" for nothing. And there is still a lot of industry that use and dumped used water into it, and farms that have runoff of pesticides all along it and it's tributaries.

The total driving distance from New Orleans to Las Vegas is 1,722 miles. I doubt you can route a pipeline in a way that reduces that much. The cost and environmental impact of building one would be enormous.

This plan feels like it was concocted by someone who's never driven from Las Vegas to New Orleans, or spent anytime on or around the Mississippi River. It gets low on water too. There are droughts in the mid-west too.

Truth is there is no good sustainable solution to this problem as it exist. The only reasonable solution is to stop building new homes right now, and look into how to reduce the number that exists because it's obvious they've already overbuilt.

It's hard for me to imagine anyone with a lick of sense taking this seriously, but that's a shortcoming of mine I am well aware of nowadays.

> The only reasonable solution is to stop building new homes right now, and look into how to reduce the number that exists because it's obvious they've already overbuilt.

Yep, reduce housing, don’t build more. Nobody wants to admit it because it doesn’t sound nice.

A planning issue that would be better addressed with goals at the large scale and fine implementation details generally left to the local scale unless issues arose.

“TedShiller” is calling for depopulating large parts of America (California specifically in another comment). Edit-depopulation is the scalpel of war, world war in this case.

It’s this kind of content that screams propaganda of the worst kind.

Don't build more in deserts.

It sounds crazy that we're even talking about this.

Don't build on coasts susceptible to hurricanes and sea level rise, don't build in the north susceptible to mega blizzards, and don't build in the Midwest susceptible to tornados.

Problem solved/s

hurricanes are temporary. a desert is forever.

those are not comparable.

You might as well compare Chernobyl to a place that has bad restaurants.

they're exactly the same.thing!

Agreed. California is a desert.

You've lived and traveled in Califoria and the west but have you tried to grow anything here? There's a reason we've built vast megaprojects to pump water around the West: our deserts have been the terminus for the biological nutrient cycle for millions of years through multiple climate cycles resulting in an incredibly fertile ecosystem, despite its desolate appearance. Combined with the heat, it creates the perfect conditions for an industry that has dominated the nation's agricultural production in foods that humans want to eat. It's a lot easier to move water than to increase the carrying capacity of an ecosystem.

At this scale, regional sustainability is an illusion. Even the Amazon rainforest is not sustainable without _transcontinental_ winds that carry massive amounts of nutrients from African dry lake beds to South America [1]. Make no mistake, we're not just talking about the sustainibility of cities in the western US but food security and quality of life for the entire United States.

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-satellite-reveals-...

From what I gathered this is not about the San Joaquin Valley farms, it's about Vegas, Phoenix, Palm Springs & Desert Hot Springs (Riverside County) and water for people living there.

Vegas went from 230,000 in 1970 to over 2.5 million residents in those years.

Phoenix from 870,000 to 4,652,000.

Riverside County from 44,579 to 2,544,820

So now we've got over 10 Million people living in the desert in just 3 those areas.

Aside from that, I lived in Sylmar, Ca in the `70s on the last parcel of ag zoned land there, so yeah, we did grow there.

When we bought our place there was a small 2 bedroon home on it, an orchard of fruit trees, a large garden, and we raised chickens and rabbits and a few cows (one at a time) there.

Our home was the oldest house in Sylmar at the time and it was akin to an oasis compared to most of the homes there. Because of the ag zoning we had two water lines, one for the home and one for the orchard & garden and we got a huge discount on the ag water line.

I'm talking about the entire southwest, not just San Joaquin Valley.

In agriculture, Riverside County is the 13th most productive county in the state in planted crops with $1.2 billion in cash receipts on about 210,000 acres [1]. That's more than any single county in Florida [2] based on crop value and the entire state of Florida produces 5-6 times more agricultural products than Riverside County on ten times the acreage. Most of that is in the Coachella Valley that is adjacent to Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs and this productivity is despite the massive environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea [3].

I don't have an agricultural report on hand for Maricopa County (Phoenix) but based off a cursory search it produces about a third of the agricultural output of Arizona, which as a whole totals half the cash receipts of Florida's industry, despite a third of the population (though I believe AZ is a lot less productive per acre than FL because it's a lot of pasture).

Now, don't get me wrong: analyzing agricultural productivity - let alone the sustainability of entire metropolises - in dollars per anything is a fool's errand that obliterates all nuance. I'm just trying to illustrate that most [4] of these cities weren't dropped in the middle of desolate wastelands by hopeless fools that kept on attracting more fools. They were founded because the deserts of the southwest provide an ideal environment and all we needed to do was bring a single ingredient. Just take a look at Phoenix in 1885 [5]: farmland as far as the eye can see, half a century before pumping mass amounts of groundwater for agriculture was even an option.

When it comes to the food people want to eat, each [4] of these regions more than pull their own weight [6]. Unless we plan on transitioning the entire country to a wheat/corn/beef/pork/chicken-only diet or significantly decreasing food security or quality of life for everyone, we have to come to terms with the fact that the entire country is not sustainable without the Southwest, which means the region's water supply a national concern. We could completely depopulate all the big cities in Arizona, Nevada, and California without saving as much as a fifth of the water we currently use because the rest is used to feed the nation.

[1] 2020 numbers: http://www.rivcoawm.org/Portals/0/PDF/2020-Crop%20Report.pdf

[2] Florida was first wet state that came to mind and it's top third to middle of the pack nationally in agriculture depending on the specific food group so I think it's representative. 2017 numbers: https://www.fdacs.gov/Agriculture-Industry/Florida-Agricultu...

[3] More precisely, farmers caused that disaster to begin with, but the area is recovering and they are are adopting more sustainable techniques.

[4] I'm ignoring Vegas because it's an outlier that started out as a supply stop for the United Pacific railroad. It only grew to its current ridiculous size when Nevada legalized gambling and the economic activity from the construction of the Hoover dam let the gambling industry develop a permanent foothold that sustained the city.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Phoenix,_Arizona#/m...

[6] We'd actually need to look at export numbers to get a more accurate picture but i.e. nearly half of Arizona's agriculture is exported if I'm understanding the ag department correctly.

"When it comes to the food people want to eat, each [4] of these regions more than pull their own weight [6]."

I don't have a problem with moving water to support agriculture in those State. That's something that was fairly well solved in the San Joaquin Valley long ago.

But that is not what this opinion piece purposes. They summed that up with "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."

That is an entirely different issue. In all of Arizona there are approximately 138,000 people that work in agriculture. That's not even in the top 10 industries in Phoenix. About 40% of the water used in Phoenix is used for farming. Phoenix-area residents use over 50% of the water they get from city water supplies for watering lawns and maintaining swimming pools. [1]

When you look at the growth of metro areas there it seems pretty clear to me that growth is not sustainable.

1: https://askabiologist.asu.edu/questions/how-much-water-are-w...

> About 40% of the water used in Phoenix is used for farming. Phoenix-area residents use over 50% of the water they get from city water supplies for watering lawns and maintaining swimming pools.

Granted, maintaining lawns and outdoor swimming pools in a desert is really stupid but you're zooming in on an urban (as much as you're going to get in Arizona) city where land is too valuable to make most farming worth while. If you zoom out to Maricopa county [1], despite the concentrated population of Phoenix, the numbers flip around and about 60% of the water goes to agriculture with another 10% or so industrial with the remaining 30% municipal (though to be honest, I thought those figures would look more like California with an 80-20 split at most).

Maybe if manifest destiny had played out differently and we had planned our westward expansion better all those people in Phoenix and LA would be living in the PNW or the swamps of the south and they'd still have access to Arizona lettuce and California avacados, but that ship has sailed. We can't, as a nation, have our cake by depopulating the west and eat it too by depending on all the agriculture the region produces. When push comes to shove, metro areas will get priority over agriculture and environmental concerns so the entire country is going to have to sacrifice regardless.

[1] https://www.maricopa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/73858/Maricopa-...

"but that ship has sailed" is a perfect summary of the situation because that ship is now the size of the Titanic in shallow water that will most certainly strand it and the only way to avoid that is to turn it around.

"Ten Civilizations or Nations That Collapsed From Drought":


I don't think California is more fertile than the Midwest on a soil-analysis basis. The nearly double growing season is what is the game changer.

I think the Southeast will happily take over this nearly double growing season, with their climate.

Let the desert return to being a desert.

> As someone who moved to LA in the early 70s, and left LA in the late 80s, and spent some time to visit Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, I can say with full confidence that anyone with a lick of sense knew there was not enough water to sustain that growth that started back then, but that didn't stop anyone from building or buying those homes. They all knew it, but didn't care.

But Las Vegas is treating almost all of the water it uses and ends up being very close to water neutral.

If they were close to water neutral, I don't think they'd be declaring a water emergency with less than two months water supply remaining.


That's Las Vegas, NM

Reading comprehension fail on my part.

Actually, building people structures where the world doesn’t support something else disrupts the world less than clearing otherwise usable land. LV is approximately cleared gravel because it is so dry. Opportunity costs, etc etc.

This is clearly an area to think at a larger, national level like the thinking which led to the Hoover Dam and national highway systems. Anything less is shrinking away from the problem.

> And there is still a lot of industry that use and dumped used water into it, and farms that have runoff of pesticides all along it and it's tributaries.

Sounds like an opportunity to clean the water and bill the polluters for the cost. If only…

It's not near as polluted as it was in the `40s-`70s but it's still polluted and will always be muddy.

I get the feeling the person who wrote that has never actually seen the Mississippi River. It's far from a clear mountain stream you'd walk up to and sip water from. It's not something you'd even want to swim in on a hot day.

For agriculture this seems like a good thing?

I don't know what the state of soil is in California but adding more can only be a good thing.

Let's compare daily average household domestic water consumption:

- where I live: 202l [0]

- US: >1135l [1]

US household consumption share of total water usage: 12% [1].

Just reducing household usage to 50% more than a random wealthy northwestern European region instead of 560%(!) more equals 10% total water usage savings. That's without even touching agriculture or other water hungry sectors.

Aligning usage to be a little less out of line with production seems like the obvious answer here.

- But you live in Europe, not the US. You couldn't possibly know how miserable life would be without watering my lawn in the middle of the desert. And what would the neighbours say?

- We only have one earth. It's _ours_ you know, not just yours. And our children's. And our children's children's..."

[0] https://www.vmm.be/data/gemiddeld-leidingwaterverbruik-gezin... (nl)

[1] https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water

Residential consumption is not the issue, subsidized water for agriculture in California is. Agricultural users paid as little$70 an acre-foot for water, which is less than a thousandth the residential rate.

Under the state’s ridiculously baroque system of senior water rights, just because someone was first to nail a notice to a tree by a river in the 19th Century, everybody else in the area has to cut their water consumption to zero before their allocation can be reduced. No state politician has been brave enough to fix this because reform would be tied down in litigation for decades, as in Mark Twain’s possibly apocryphal quote that “whisky is for drinking and water’s for fighting over.”

This broken system does not incentivize efficient drip irrigation, in many places they simply flood the fields with water, and you have absurdities like the despicable Saudis buying up land with senior rights and growing alfalfa, a low-value and water-intensive crop they export to Arabia to feed cows, which is basically laundering water exports.

> is not the issue

I think this is the biggest issue with every resource and climate issue right now. As soon as you point out something significant, somebody pops up with "But that's not the real issue", and points to another three.

US domestic, residential resource usage (water, raw energy, fossil fuel) is so amazingly out of whack with the rest of the world that it's starting to demoralise the rest of us.

This is a problem that can be fixed but it won't if you just want to point at other problems.

How many countries successfully built highway systems by leaving the construction of them to private people? How about rail systems? Because a national water grid is closer to a power grid or highway system ie fundamental, critical, and national infrastructure than something even an hoa could pull off.

These “arguments” for “personal responsibility” are increasingly shallow. The rhetorical equivalent of grabbing someones whole arm, forcing that arm to hit themselves, and asking “why are you hitting yourself? You’re so silly!” Ie abuse.

Where did I argue for personal responsibility or privately built infrastructure? Are you replying to the right comment?

The US needs to take national responsibility for energy consumption and water use. From agriculture to residential and everything in between. That will involve a lot of Federal and state funded infrastructure but also a lot of subsidised home improvement, and tax. The whole US needs to take this seriously, we all do.

Just to reiterate, I'm not saying we should ignore any of the issues you talked about; rather it's your approach of ignoring domestic because of argri that I think sends the wrong message to everyone.

I agree there is a frustrating tendency to get into deflecting blame and pointing at different things, the situation with water is perhaps not a great example.

If you focus on household water usage, you'll have many people oppose your effort because they don't want to take shorter showers or buy a new washing machine. If you point out that some corporation is paying pennies to drain an aquifer to grow a water-intensive crop like almonds in the desert, it's easier to get the political base to affect real change.

Basically, you can try to get the majority of people to choose the greater societal good over their own comfort and convenience (good luck, humans suck) or you can try to convince enough of them to not let the almond farmers continue pillaging the shared water supply, which feels more politically viable.

This works both ways.

If you mandate low flow (eg 6l/minute, half regular showers) via building code, and strengthen water efficiency standards for appliances, make company licensing factor in energy and water usage, and in tougher times, enforce hosepipe and sprinkler bans, private pools, etc... then it makes it a lot easier to lean on agri.

There might be a strong enough argument for prioritising agriculture, but that's only something you can start to appreciate once you appreciate the cost of water, which you can't if your only experience is that it's limitless at every point of use.

The problem is not agriculture per se, but the inefficient way it uses water due to the perverse incentives of California's water rights system. They could get the same output for way less water using drip irrigation, but that costs more than simply flooding with water. The first step is to abolish senior rights, the second is to remove subsidies so all users pay the same rate at actual cost.

> laundering water exports

Sorry I might be ignorant but this sounds ridiculous. How could that ever be economically viable? If you wanted to import water, there are plenty of places (less populated than California) closer to the Arabic peninsula (not on the other side of the world) where water is more plentiful.

He's overlooking that the amount of water used to grow a plant is much more than the amount of water that ends up in the plant. For alfalfa 0.005% of the water used to grow it ends up in the product. The remaining 99.995% ends up mostly in the atmosphere around where the plants are grown, either by transpiration from the plants or by evaporation from the soil around the plants.

I've heard "exporting water" used as shorthand for the issue quite often. Sure, the water is still there, but it is still taking a large amount of potable water and making it non-potable. You're still diverting that water from the natural ecosystem even if it still end up "back in the environment."

It would not be economically viable without the market distortion caused by the subsidization.

See https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/25/california-w...

> - We only have one earth. It's _ours_ you know, not just yours. And our children's. And our children's children's..."

This makes no sense as a response. Water usage is a local issue where water goes through X rather than Y. Water usage in Pakistan has zero effect on Germany, unlike CO2 emmissions.

If an entire river got diverted to lawns then the effects would only be between the divert point and the sea (in the form of the river nor being available for other people to divert from and animal life not having a river to live in) and even those effects are mostly temporary. Heck, lawn water mostly goes back in to the water table, with the rest evaporating to make clouds to then fall back as rain.

> Water usage is a local issue where water goes through X rather than Y. Water usage in Pakistan has zero effect on Germany, unlike CO2 emmissions.

Not entirely accurate:

> The virtual water trade (also known as embedded or embodied water) is the hidden flow of water in food or other commodities that are traded from one place to another.[1] The virtual water trade is the idea that when goods and services are exchanged, so is virtual water.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_water

A concrete example from another comment:

> With the Saudi Arabian landscape there being mostly desert and alfalfa being a water-intensive crop, growing it there has always been expensive and draining on scarce water resources, to the point that the Saudi government finally outlawed the practice in 2016. In the wake of the ban, Almarai decided to purchase land wherever it is cheap and has favorable water conditions to produce enough feed for its 93,000 cows.

* https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/25/california-w...

* https://archive.ph/0gKrs

I understand the point you are making about areas that are far apart, but in some cases it really isn't local. The Colorado river is one good example.

I suppose water (at least natural water from rivers) is one of the few actual zero-sum games in economics. No matter not hard you try, it won't rain more, and a given river only has so much water to give.

> No matter not hard you try, it won't rain more

Cloud seeding is being studied.

That seems like it must be taking water from whoever is downwind (but maybe that's the ocean).

One of them is per family and other per person (family of size 1). Is it even comparable? I am not saying it is lesser, it's pretty high, probably 200% not 560% if I am right.

Family size of 1 is given as 108L each, but average usage per member of a family of 2.3 people is given as 89L each, so presumably an average total household usage in Flanders would be about 2.3 x 89 = 205L. I'm not sure where OP gets the 202L number from, it doesn't appear anywhere on the page. Possibly mis-reading a date as a consumption, hence I'm using capital L for Litres.

That's more than 5x less than the US. It's quite plausible the average family size and environmental conditions in Flanders differ quite a bit from that in the US, but it's still a huge disparity, and according to the second link a lot of that seems to be down to domestic irrigation. Tackling that wouldn't be very popular, of course.

The headline says 74000l/household/year. Divide by roughly 365 days a year = 202.7392l/day. I made a rounding error and didn't read further down. Still a very useful approximation I'd say.

Isn't this just an argument that individual consumption is not the problem? And likely a planned distraction perpetrated by agriculture & industry.

I half agree with the author in that "conservation simply can’t do the job" but their supposition seems to be framed as household use alone.

Conservation changes / remove wasteful agriculture would be plenty.

> And our children's children's...

I believe in making the world safe for our children, but not our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex. (Jack Handey)

What is causing this? Is it mostly watering the lawn and gardening? Or do Americans just take longer showers? Are our toilets bigger?

> Are our toilets bigger?

Actually it’s the opposite.

“People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once.”

You can't just drop something absurd like that with no evidence or citation

One of Trump’s many absurd statements.


Mostly watering the lawn and gardening if you follow the data

The epa link shows that 24% is toilet, 20% shower, and 19% faucet. I expected clothes washers (17%) to be far higher, frankly.

Before looking at the water source, wouldn't doing the bare minimum to control the water sinks would be in order?

I mean, we have harder regulations on water useage in the alps, and this is a water rich area where only 3% of the a available water is used. The truth is that the water a land will provide is limited. And of course you could expand this water by also taking the water from another land, but maybe pitting a little effort into not wasting water for unnecessary stuff would already do wonders?

Most of the water is used by industry, I always find it amusing when we pretend 5 minute showers will have an impact.

And building all those chip foundries in Texas isn't going to help.

This is somewhat my point. It should not be that hard to have some checks on the water use of the industry. E.g. you could create laws for certain especially water-hungry industries, you could ban certain water intensive agriculture alltogether (e.g. avocados) etc.

Some of those measures could be permanent (given the fact that it is going to get worse) others could be limited to especially dry years/seasons.

Regulating water use in a friggin' desert is common sense. How much worth is a culture when it cannot even reach that low bar of rationality?

It's the "EV" approach to water.

It's truly comical that consumers are expected to make all these huge sacrifices, when the only sacrifice necessary is the ink and paper necessary for reform.

All it takes it a desire to return to reality. Irrigating deserts is generally a bad idea.

Wont foundries circulate the water anyways?

We could also start mandating the use of reclaimed water in more residential settings. Seems most places if they do it only water some planters and medians. Needs to be code to run reclaimed water to new construction so it’s a least an option in the future. A lot of cleaned water is just dumped right to sea. So wasteful.

Is residential water use really the problem? Relative to agricultural use of water in California, residential water use is a drop in the bucket. Agricultural use of water on its own exceeds the maximum use of water the state can support long run. I can understand the desire to make an impact as an individual, but even dropping residential water use to zero won't do much at all for the problem as it stands. It's a distraction.

Your problem there is that you have agriculture at all, in a desert. Deserts aren't great places to grow food, and in turn the lack of food and water means that deserts aren't great places for people to live.

There's a bootstrap problem to be solved. If you want water, you need ground-covering plants, which need moist loamy soil, which needs water, and so on. For any of this to work you need to start by turning as much grassland as you can get into pasture (with irrigation, sadly, which needs water) and grazing it with livestock, and then kind of building that out over time.

Monoculture arable farming makes deserts. You need to stop doing that.

> Is residential water use really the problem?

Having no residential water restriction certainly doesn't help voters understand that water availability is a problem.

...okay... but you're wasting that political oomph on a measure that is clearly not going to be effective.

People have limited ceilings for these types of things. Of anything you need to have at least equal measure measure, but preferably greater measure of industrial controls on scarce resource consumption.

As numerous other commenters have mentioned here, even a total ban on residential water use would not make a difference to the water issue in the American West. There simply is not enough residential usage to matter.

I realize that but telling people they have to let their grass die while also dumping perfectly clean reclaimed water to the ocean is a bit silly.

What are you referring to?

That would be a good start. Personally I am honestly starting to become allergic to proposals of this kind. "We need more {water, electricity, roads, lanes}" all while never mentioning any plans how to use the resources that we already have more efficiently.

You’re assuming these people are thinking logically and rationally. The governments and elected politicians don’t want to do anything that will hurt the farmers and associated communities. Not to mention the water allotment agreement is 100 years old and needs to be revisited.

I understand that this is mostly for agriculture, but maybe let's stop building and expanding big cities in the desert. Golf courses in Phoenix, for example, seem like an irresponsible use of water.

Counterpoint: I grew up in the Midwest along the Kankakee river, and most infrastructure is built for flooding, as it can happen year round. Fresh water is not only abundant, there is often too much, and flooded fields and towns are a real problem. I am all for finding ways to move it west where people say they need it and are willing to pay a premium. Cities in the deserts of earth are more feasible than ever with ingenuity and engineering, and will probably always be much easier than building cities on Mars, for example.

> I am all for finding ways to move it west where people say they need it and are willing to pay a premium.

Note that the premium amount they would be willing to pay is approximately $0.0017 per litre, delivered treated to their doorstep.

[1] https://www.phoenix.gov/rates# says ~$5/unit, with each unit being ~750 gallons, or ~2850 litres

Gonna be inflation on that account

The great lakes watershed can't be touched. In any case, the solution to floods in a flood plain is to not live in a flood plain or build elevated structures.

Only because of a treaty. If there was monetary compensation for the water I think you would get the states and provinces on board in a hurry.

I’d be more concerned about the insane water rights problems being shoved upstream to people in the great lakes basins.

Telling me I can’t collect rain water to water my garden so somebody who lives in a dessert 2,000 miles away can be guaranteed the ability to water their lawn is insanity.

Rain barrels are legal in all states bordering the lakes. It isn't like you're stealing water that will disappear from the local environment. It's just a time delay.

I’m referring to the madness in the western state where more than 100% of the water is spoken for.

Well, so is growing alfalfa in the desert.

... for export

Artifical surf parks in Arizona seem a tad excessive.

[0] http://www.swellmfg.com/

72% of water used in Arizona is used by Agriculture.. https://www.arizonawaterfacts.com/water-your-facts

Is this essential agriculture that can't take place in another state?

Is this water frugal agriculture appropriate for the climate and actual supply, or is it water exuberant agriculture (avocados, sugar beets, applies, apricots, walnuts, cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, prunes, figs, kiwis, etc)?

Percentages alone don't tell the whole story.

> Is this essential agriculture that can't take place in another state?

Of course not.

But if you own some land which is worth $x00,000,000 when irrigated with subsidised water and only $x,000,000 when it's not, and you can give $x0,000 for lobbying to "protect farming jobs and keep food prices low" by giving you your subsidy? Paying $x0,000 a year is good business sense.

People like fresh fruit and vegetables year around and most of the U.S. is too cold to grow these in winter. Arizona is an exception.

I could see an argument that surfing is a religious sacrament.

Originally golf courses were built on marginal land on dunes.

The only thing you need water for is the green. Not that I see golf going back to that.

Golf courses in Phoenix mostly use reclaimed water so their net impact is very low.

That’s not true.

First, that water would be used for other things if it wasn’t used for golf courses. There are lots of other potential uses for reclaimed water. Second, less than 20% of golf course water is actually from reclaimed sources.

I don't see a reason why one couldn't use 90% of a golf course to grow grass/alfalfa and not waste the water.

Or, better yet, don’t try grow green things in a desert that has severe water shortages…

Do you have any sources for that? Growing golf course greens is very water intensive.

As a reference, China has been doing this a similar project to interconnect the North (think Beijing etc) and South (think Shanghai) water system. Heck, they have been doing it since hundreds of year ago [2]. So I guess there is a precedent.

Based on this thread, I would guess that a large amount of the problem will not be an engineering one, but political and social one. Constructing such a large mega project to divert would require a national unity and tremendous will to 'sculpt' nature.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South%E2%80%93North_Water_Tran... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Yunnan_Water_Diversion... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Canal_(China)

There was also this project in USSR: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aral_Sea

So much water in that lake, right? But it went from 4th largest in the world to no lake.

It seems, in my subjective opinion based on reading the Wikipedia article, the engineering standards employed by the Soviets in the Aral project is subpar. Furthermore, the 'destruction' of the Aral sea, based on my reading of the article, is considered as an acceptable to the Soviets (they know that the Aral will shrunk). T

The letter proposed in this thread seems to understand the danger of the taking too much water and thus propose a reasonable limits of 2.5-5%. The limits could change based on a more detailed feasibility studies (which is the main point of the author, let's think about it.)

US engineering and attention to detail are, I agree, vastly different to the Soviet ones.

But concern for quality of environment for others vs corporate profit? Hmm not sure. The initial overuse of water resources in the West, endless stories of top soil and water table irreversible pollution with one chemical or other, or the reports that gas and oil companies had a full perspective in global warming in 1990s...

I'd agree, there possibly is an amount of water you could safely divert, and it is this kind of study that would determine it, but I'm not sure if the end result would reflect a sustainable solution.

That's a very good point! The feasibility studies could solve the engineering question but social/economic (not as in cost-benefit, but in which group/organization/corporation will have more priority) is much more harder to solve.

But in my personal guess, a strong NGO/political activism by CA could influence the canal for the better. After all, construction of such canal, aside from having the support of the Federal Government, would requires an interstate compact/agreement. California would probably impose a decent environmental standard. Furthermore, Southeast states would also impose a strong limitation on the waters they will agree to divert. Unlike China, US States has strong sovereignty on matter like this and it would probably lead to some kind of equilibrium on the 'sustainable' water diversion rate.

> The letter proposed in this thread seems to understand the danger of the taking too much water and thus propose a reasonable limits of 2.5-5%.

What happens when that becomes not enough?

Minor detail: it was 4th largest by surface volume, but 12th by volume.

But [0] seems to mostly be gravity fed so doesn't need the construction of 4+ new nuclear power plant equivalent generators and as far as I can tell shorter. [1] is much shorter and proposes to move much less water

While not exactly similar to North America continental divide, traversing from the Yangtze river to the North would require traversing some hilly or mountainous area. [0] mentions that there is some uphill location that required pumps.

At this point, there is no feasibility studies on the NA East-West water canal. There is no idea on how efficient it is vs desalination (in terms of energy), its ecological impact, and the required cost for the design and construction.

My main idea is that we should not dismiss the idea and that the Army Engineering Corps should at least do feasibility studies on it*. A proper feasibility studies could unveil the true challenge, benefits, and disadvantage (rather than anecdotal guess) of the water canal.

I am not exactly familiar with the NA Southwest and Southeast but the canal could possibility bring other benefits, such as reducing the heat in the region and opening up new land for farming and irrigation. It could have a trigger a new economic growth while at the same time, reducing flood risk at the Southeast. There is also a possibility that the this could trigger a transfer of wealth (in terms of payment for water, technical skills etc) from the relatively prosperous south West Coast to the Southeast, reducing inequality. Of course, I am not eliminating the possibility that the canal could be a white elephant and trigger untold ecological and natural disaster, but unless a feasibility studies is conducted, we never know.

*US Government, or at least the Federal Entity, are already doing multiple kind of planning and research for dizzying array of contingency. Why should the same mindset is not applied for possible infrastructure development?

Why the Army Corps of Engineers? We already a bureau that looks at this kind of stuff.

> The Waterways Journal noted talks to tap the Mississippi River for western states goes back decades. "The Bureau of Reclamation did a thorough study of the idea of pumping Mississippi River water to Arizona in 2012, concluding that the project would cost $14 billion (in 2012 dollars) and take 30 years to complete. As recently as 2021, the Arizona state legislature urged Congress to fund a technological and feasibility study of a diversion dam and pipeline scheme to harvest floodwater from the Mississippi River to replenish the Colorado River."


I've taken too much of a deep dive on this. But I can't find any source for that study. The article does link to a study of a canal across Kansas, but that study notes that the unit costs of water, for that much shorter route would be too high for farming to support. It would need to be subsidized by cities and industry and its price tag for a division of half of what this fanciful article puts as the lower bound was 28,276,000,000.

We need to price water properly first, then we can see if it even makes sense to farm in the desert or to ship water out there. At the moment it seems not to, not while we have better places

Most water use is for agriculture. Most agricultural water use is for meat. Beef is by far the least efficient way to turn water (and other stuff) into protein. I propose we tax meat nationwide according to its water use, instead of dreaming up unrealistic and unnecessary megaprojects.

I know you said protein, but calories are really the metric we want to use here.

TL;DR: 2.1 calories/gallon for almonds, 5.3 c/g for tofu, 1,558 c/g for beef.

Almonds consume 3.2 gallons of water each for just shy of 7 calories. 2.18 calories per gallon.

Cows consume ~3,200 gallons of water from birth to slaughter, where they produce about 6 million calories. 1,875 calories per gallon.

An additional 50 bales of hay to feed it over its lifetime (really hay is half the diet but its late and I'm just doubling it). Approximately 1,300 gallons per acre, which produces 100 bales - 13 gallons per bale - 650 gallons to grow the food. That is still 1,558 calories per gallon of water.

I found a recipe online that used about a gallon of water (rinsing and as an ingredient) for 1 pound of tofu. 10,000 gallons to produce one bushel (or 60 pounds) of soybeans. 166 gallons per pound. A pound is 2.6 cups, recipe wants 1 cup. 63 gallons per cup. 64 gallons made into tofu. 344 calories per pound of tofu. 5.3 calories per gallon of water consumed.

What are your sources for the cow info? I'm getting more like 30 kcal/gallon.

A cow drinks 9-12 gallons per day [1] (assuming not lactating, which takes a lot more water; let's just say these are cows being raised purely for slaughter). Call it 10 gallons/day on average.

Cows raised for slaughter live 4-6 years [2]. Call it 5 years on average.

10 gallons/day * 355 days/year * 5 years/cow ≈ 17750 gallons/cow.

Finally, the amount of energy in a cow as sold in retail stores is about 500,000 kcal [3]. That works out to about 30 kcal/gallon.

[1] https://www.amelicor.com/blog/how-much-water-should-a-cow-dr...

[2] https://thehumaneleague.org/article/dairy-cows

[3] https://old.reddit.com/r/theydidthemonstermath/comments/a8ha...

> What are your sources for the cow info?

Having raised cows and some Googling. Your numbers are for dairy cows and not meat cows. Dairy cows consume a ton of water because they are intended to produce a liquid nearly non-stop, and while they are eventually slaughtered for meat it mostly ends up in dog food.

So you're basically just making stuff up. http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/publications/beef-...

Meant to say 365 days/year.

Your numbers for beef are absurdly wrong. Reality is closer to 2000 gallons per pound, or roughly 0.5 calories per gallon. Chicken is about 4x less. Grains are roughly an order of magnitude less. As a country the USA consumes dramatically more meat than necessary, cutting even a little would have a massive impact on water consumption.

Are you intentionally lying?

This is a great idea. People need to connect all the big problems with animal husbandry to their immediate lives so they have impetus to stop eating meat. Most people have virtually no knowledge of how bad meat really is. They just see a product on the shelf that they strongly desire.

So people would just stop eating meat and that's the end of it? Or might it be that you'd then "activate" a sizable chunk of 92%+ of Americans who eat meat to vote for the next candidate who runs on a pro-meat platform. That's a sizable enough influence that the next election would likely look like one big beef industry commercial.

If being vegetarian or vegan is an important value to you then the real way to make real lasting progress is by trying to persuade and convince people, not by trying to force or otherwise coerce them into agreeing with you. The same as on any topic.

The point of my comment is that people need to be convinced. I obviously wasn't explicit enough based on the responses.

Like abortion right? Haha!

Im sure people will react reasonably when a state subsidized luxury good for everyone reveals its reall price over night.

Why do people make these kinds of objections?

Taper down the subsidies over time rather than implementing them over night.

"If we intentionally implement this policy change in the dumbest, bluntest way possible, it will be disruptive" is an argument for never making any policy change.

This is backwards. Most people don't appreciate how important hoofed animals are for the ecology and how efficient they are in terms of caloric production. There are some issues with mass industrial animal husbandry as currently practiced, but if you want long-term sustainability, the mass industrial farming of the Midwest with soybeans and corn has to stop and be replaced with bison or cattle grazing before soil depletion is too far advanced.

Trying to end meat consumption is going to result in a Great Leap Forward-type disaster. We need to be looking at the ecology holistically and try to work with nature and the sustainable processes that generated what we have now, not burn it all down we can grow more of what's short-term efficient on spreadsheets for one single dimension.

If you want go to this route, then you might find the cost of your cereal going up. More than 98% [1] of the water usage attributed to beef/cattle (and other animals) is an indirect measurement - it's from the estimated water usage in the production of the feed that's given to them. Cattle themselves directly use next to no water. So you'd need to add your water tax to grains and other such products.

Another interesting datum is that the average head of cattle has a water footprint of 2056 (m^3/year), while it's 2842 [2] for the average American, and 1071 for the average Chinese. There are 94 million cattle in the US, and 332 million people.

[1] - https://waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/product-water-...

[2] - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221830102_The_Water...

Yes most of the water use to produce beef is indirect, in growing the feed. If beef is taxed to consumers it will reduce demand, which will reduce the demand for feed, which will reduce the consumption of water. Decreasing the demand for cereal will decrease its cost, not increase it.

You're somewhat shifting the goal posts here. The OP was suggesting taxing meat in proportion to their water usage, which would then presumably be spent on water reclamation projects or whatever. But the direct water usage of meat is completely negligible, which leaves you in this weird scenario where you're trying to tax somebody for water that they didn't use. So you're left to tax water usage at the source, and that's going to hit plants far harder than meat.

how much cereal does the average person eat vs the average cow?

My understanding is that agricultural water use in CA is dominated by growing crops, not feeding cows.

Crops that feed animals lol

Cows are actually extremely efficient at turning water into calories. Almonds, alfalfa, and soy consume 2.5 orders of magnitude more water to generate an equivalent amount of calories as a cow.


Would reducing 5% of water from this point in Louisiana not also have a noticeable impact and that state's environment? I could see a significant legal battle here, much bigger than we've seen in cases where other states down stream feel as though they are wronged by states upstream. Louisiana will ask itself, "to what extent will we be forced to give water to the entire US Southwest?".

States like Colorado are already “giving” most of “their” water to other states. Louisiana could probably be convinced to do the same.

Reducing the flow of water in Louisiana by 5% would not have noticeable impact on the state’s environment when you consider that annual variability of water flow must be far higher than 5% for such a vast and dynamic watershed. If that kind of annual variability is not often creating headlines, outside of flooding - for which this kind of project could only help, then it’s difficult to imagine how a far smaller variance would have meaningful impact.

The army corps of engineers killed Louisiana’s ability to create land by taming the mighty Mississippi River. The river used to change direction and spew sediment into the barrier islands. For the past 100 years the barrier island have been shrinking due to sediment loss.[1]

I saw a documentary recently about canals that will be used to direct sediment into the barrier islands before it reaches the Gulf.

>Until this USGS study was undertaken, environmental managers thought that the principal cause of barrier island erosion was rising sea level. Now, we know that both the longshore movement of sediment and the general absence of sand-sized sediment is the principal cause of the islands' instability. The sediments underlying coastal Louisiana are made up mostly of silts and muds which do not contribute to the building of beaches, dunes, and spits—geomorphic features associated with healthy barrier islands. In addition, long-shore currents redistribute the available sand from headland areas to embayments, depriving shorelines of much needed sand.


Why? These are states that are literally deserts yet continue to waste water. Take Phoenix, something like 50% of their residential water use is watering lawns. The state also just got a brand new TSMC fab, presumably with a bunch of tax breaks and guaranteed water - given that the large fabs use around as much water each day as 3-400k homes, it’s rich to turn around and say you need federal aid to get more water.

Residential and industrial use combined is still less than 1/2 of agricultural use of water in Arizona... Agriculture that still uses flood irrigation , where they flood a field with water.. instead of sprinklers or more efficient means.. https://www.arizonawaterfacts.com/water-your-facts but yeah.. it's people and industry.

Interesting no points on the ecology of what the water might bring to the West. I’m sure there some other concerns missing.

Maybe it’s time to investigate growing lettuce and strawberries in the Mississippi valley instead of a place literally called the Sonoran Desert.

Sending the Colorado water to Los Angeles was already completely stupid. This river runs completely dry in Mexico.

1700 miles of landowner lawsuits; and one endangered insect will stop any progress until enormous amounts of money and time are spent to make sure we comply with every current environmental regulation. By the time that’s done the South West will be long gone. Years ago when the Mississippi River flooded causing all kinds of damage, all we heard from Californians was how stupid the Midwest folks were to live so close to rivers and now we can say the same. How stupid is it to develop cities in a desert and have to beg for water.

I'm probably just uninformed about this, but can anyone explain why there are so many comments about California here? The article seems to be about:

> 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.

The article seems to use California as an example in a couple places, for example

> 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.

but I think, at least, the main beneficiaries would be the Southwest states. (?)

California takes 27% of the water from the Colorado River. That's more than Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada combined.

Ah, ok. So the idea is pretty fanciful in the first place, but on top of that the author is also being disingenuous by focusing on southwestern states, then?

to complete the answer, there are actual pumps to bring the colorado river waters all the way to Los Angeles, this is bonkers. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Colorado...

And Los Angeles also gets some water by another gigantic water system coming all the way from northern California collecting the melting snow from the high Sierras. "Los Angeles" is a bit of the loose term because the central valley is connected to the same system for agricultural needs.

I think it's really the bleak future to look at as an example, Phoenix is still small enough that it doesn't yet use more than its alotment of the Colorado river. But clearly the article is looking at artificially propping up Phoenix in the future the way Los Angles is right now.

Edit: and in the terminator 2 movie, this is not a rain ditch, it’s supposed to be an actual river.

Think of California as the furthest west extent of the Southwest for the purposes of this conversation because the colloquial usage here doesn’t really matter.

There are a handful of States that contribute to the Colorado River including Mexican States and that river (or what’s left of it by the time it gets that far) discharges into the Gulf of California.

Changing supply anywhere in that basin effectively increases water supply in the whole basin but uh, much like extra RAM and highway lanes, it’ll probably just get used up. So the question is really whether Mississippi River consumers and US taxpayers subsidize our lives out here in the American West? I suppose sucking the government teat is a time honored American tradition, just not one I’m fond of.

Or: people can live in places actually suitable to comfortable human habitation (there's nothing wrong with Michigan or Pennsylvania, as far as places to live go) and put up with the sky being gray 40 percent of the time, and those who legitimately want to live in deserts can put up with not having lawns and golf courses.

We also probably shouldn't be growing water-intensive crops in places that don't have water, nor eating ourselves into an early grave but eating twice as much red meat (which is far more water-intensive than the overly vilified almond) as we should be.

Fun fact: Hans Albert Einstein, son of Albert Einstein, helped with the design of the Old River Control Structure.

According to Wunderground's three-part series about the ORCS[1], there is some uncertainty as to whether it will be able to keep the Mississippi River on its current route without failure.

[1] https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/Americas-Achilles-Heel-Mis...

Sad that not reading the article before commenting has so obviously come to hacker news. So many comments on here moaning about harming the east to give to a greedy west when what something like this would almost certainly do is help the east flood less while helping the west at least partly solve a water shortage. The concerns about contamination are real but probably manageable though.

Perhaps HN should ban paywalled articles? I cannot read this article.

Just open it it a private window with your browser.

I've pretty much stopped commenting after finding better forums for discussion now. So many of the comments are from angry people with nothing constructive to offer. I have a lot to say about this subject, but it's not worth the effort to deal with all the drive-by shitposts.

Why don’t people just do things that use less water?

Long and convoluted story. Mostly agriculture driven and not residential.

Cadallic desert is a good Book

Moving water West by train sounds like it could be a viable solution. A DOT liquid car can hold 30,000gal, and 30,000gal/sec is the proposed solution from the article, provides at least a sense of scale required. Trains are probably more efficient for moving water uphill than pipes and pumps due to friction losses in the pipe. Bonus points because the infrastructure already exists! All the train would have to do is get water across the continental divide, and release it into a reservoir of choice just across the line. Bonus points for electrifying the railway. During wet seasons, this seems wasteful. During water rationing emergencies, there seems to be no more flexible way to engineer a reflexive water provisioning network.

Unless we convert those tracks into 24/7 dedicated track, there’s no way we could deliver the same volume of water by track vs pipe.

This seems like the correct thing to do. There was at one point in time a more popular push in India to “connect all the rivers”. I was too young to fully understand what that meant, and also it’s not always easy to know whether something that’s proposed is truly feasible.

But infrastructure to move water around your country especially when a large chunk is a desert makes perfect sense. I originally imagined this would mean somehow exploiting the Great Lakes but the argument suggested here seems quite practical.

Not saying wasteful agriculture on export crops shouldn’t be banned (it should) and perhaps people should stop having so many golf courses, but free flowing water is a true mark of advanced Civilization and it’s not unfair for a country to build the infra to guarantee it.

No, it's the stupid status quo thing to do. People need to move where resources are, not shift resources across an entire fucking continent doing god knows what to the ecosystems in between.

This godlike arrogance thinking we can just rearrange the earth on a whim for our needs is the fucking problem. This is why humanity is a cancer.

Should... should. So. Should they move the canneries, ports, flat land, abundant sun and all the skilled labor and their families? Mechanics, installers, fabricators, etc.

It's not like it's a small operation. There are canneries almost a mile long. There are small mountains of peach pits that form when they're processed (these are used for other purposes by the way!).

What about mature orchards?

I'm not sure why people hate California so much. It's got a lot of problems, like most places... But it's pretty amazing how much shit goes on there.

I don't hate California at all, I'm a Washington Liberal.

But the agriculture in California in the face of climate change is completely unsustainable. It is up there with the coal mining and fracking in Pennsylvania.

We need to properly manage the crisis and reduce the amount of human suffering involved because uprooting people in painful.

The alternative seems like we could wind up having literal water wars at some point. This proposal caps the diversion at 5% but that seems the same as building more freeways to me, which just causes more traffic. Give California more water and the agricultural industry will expand and you'll kick the can down the road again.

I hate california because out of hubris they create their own huge problems, ignore the obvious but slightly detrimental to the elite there solutions, claim the actual solution is some huge overengineered, overthought, magic bullet solution that is pretty much impossible to actually happen, and then that all allows Republicans to point and laugh and pretend the rest of the Democrat led states aren't perfectly functional and doing very well.

This seems reasonable to me. 5% of the water that’s just going into the gulf otherwise seems perfectly reasonable.

On the other hand, the engineering to elevate that much water will be interesting.

So 1500 miles of imminent domain confiscation of property. Impractical engineering. Enormous state, local and federal spending to accommodate this new, man-made river. And no discussion of addressing the absurd laws and abuses that drive much if California's water woes...

Doesn’t solve the problem, it just pushes it a bit further down the road. It’s better to accept that the land can’t support the current or projected population and start to right size and reexamine land use. With any luck the trend will reverse in a century or two.

This was common practice throughout history. The Egyptians built canals, lakes, and basins to divert water from the Nile and vastly expand the amount of livable area and farmland. People think the Great Pyramids are a wonder of the world, but the irrigation projects were potentially more impressive and impactful.

More recently, the Libyan government built the Great Man-Made Project, which was thousands of kilometers of pipes pumping water from desert aquifers in the south to the cities in the north, which sounds like one of those crazy dictator megalomaniac ego projects but actually had a tremendous amount of impact (assuming there's as much water in the aquifers they're draining as they think).

Wonderful. The federal government built massive projects along the Colorado River. Arizona and Southern California got subsidized water and electricity. It took a very few years for the population of Arizona and Southern California to decide that they were sturdy pioneers and that what the US needed was less government. How many years of Mississippi/Missouri basin water before they resume quoting Ronald Reagan on "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you." The Hoover Dam was completed in 1936; Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination in 1964; and Ronald Reagan came to political prominence as a speaker for Goldwater.

So what? I don't get your point.

I find it increasingly pointless to subsidize the impractical land use in the southwest and mountain west.

Fair enough. I think if done at the right scale it would cause an economic growth at grand scale. Forget pipes to cities, I am thinking artificial rivers and lakes.

From the USDA, “Almonds accounted for nearly 70 percent U.S. tree nut export volume in recent years, averaging over 970 million pounds (shelled basis) or almost three-quarters of world almond exports.” Agriculture uses all the water and agriculture exports most of their produce? So water has to be diverted to California. “ In 2020 the top importers of Almonds,fresh or dried, shelled were Germany ($657M), Spain ($532M), Italy ($354M), Netherlands ($298M), and France ($281M)” Can’t the europeans grow their own almonds? It’s not like we eat tons of almonds.

I'm from New Orleans. The author is dead wrong. The city of New Orleans gets its drinking water from the Mississippi. And the city of New Orleans is the biggest port in the hemisphere based on Mississippi River traffic which is it's economy.

Anyway, I highly doubt the modern US government has the capability to build a thousand miles of pipeline over the continental divide.

Although it would be interesting to have California dependent on red states.

A better solution is to just do nuclear desalination from the ocean like the Arabs do.

What are the groundwater resources like in the areas that are otherwise proposed for the water to be delivered to? Since we’re talking nation-scale projects here, then I’m talking about at depths from 1km to 3km.


What about desalination? Would that be more cost effective?

The states in question don’t have oceans to desalinate.

A couple of nuke plants powering desalination and California could be exporting water to the east. Of course, that assumes a willingness to take their water issues seriously - it's not like they haven't seen it coming for several decades and could have all this in operation already.

Takes about 4000 kwh to desalinate an acre foot of water. Would take about 2GW of solar to desalinate a million acre feet of water.

Los Angles takes 1.2 million acre feet of water from the Colorado. Replace that with desalinization, no heep big canal needed.

For the record, California has an estimated 5.8 GW of wind turbine generation, and in the year 2019 alone, California ADDED 3.1 GW of solar generation capacity. This doesn't require a Nuclear plant or crazy economics or giant nationwide plan. The actual building, machinery, and pipework for desalinating would be a larger infrastructure project than the extra power generation to power it.

The only thing this requires is for Californian government to get their head out of their asses, and stop expecting everyone else to just bend over backwards for them.

I think the problem is that desalinating water (ignoring the environmental impact of the resulting brine) will produce water that costs at a minimum many hundreds of dollars per acre-foot. This is fine for urban use, but makes many of the current agricultural uses uneconomical. Nobody will pay $5,000/acre for water so they can sell their crop for $1,000/acre. All of these discussions dance around the fact that irrigation farmers are largely turning X dollars of water into 0.25X worth of crops, and the taxpayers are making up the difference. This is true of farmers in pretty much every state that uses colorado river water - if we erased 'water rights' and allowed the water to be competitively bid on, many farmers would either leave their land fallow or switch to less water intensive crops. We're basically giving away extremely valuable water at way below market rates, we're practically guaranteed to have a 'shortage.' It doesn't make sense to add enormously expensive infrastructure just so we can turn around and keep giving the water away.

But LA does. Arizona could pay for LA for Lake Mead water at the desalination price.

What is the energy cost of the proposal vs the energy cost of desalination?

One tricky thing is the Mississippi has water, but the majority comes from the Ohio, nowhere near the Colorado. This is a diagram for capacity, not volume, but you get the idea.


A central issue that has not been emphasized here is that the U.S. is incapable of doing major infrastructure projects anymore. Instead it just does maintenance and minor projects of existing infrastructure. Take for example the California high speed rail project--which keeps getting delayed, cut back and going massively over budget.

No better place to read a bit more about Old River Control and the work the Corps has done over the years than "Atchafalaya," by John McPhee:


Ok so similar scale pipeline as Libya’s Great Man-Made River


except with narrower pipes and no wells, but adding a need for pumping stations.

Why not just admit that the hot dry western side of the US just isn't suitable for the kind of dense human habitation that you have there, and move the people to a more sustainable part of your very large continent?

How dumb does an editor have to be to publish this article with no map?

This seems like an overly ambitious project.

California hasn't built a new reservoir since 1979 when it only had 23 million people.

Build more reservoirs. Right now wet years are flowing into the ocean.

Wouldn't the Columbia make more sense than the Mississippi? It has about half the discharge of the Mississippi, but is closer.

I've had a bigger idea... make a dam around Greenland before it melts.

It's time for rewilding and Land Back on a massive scale in the west.

Counter-proposal: Time for people to investigate moving East.

The cure sounds worse than the disease.

Hi, I'm from the government. We are here to help.

If California hasn't lived within its means so far, why do we think that would change after giving them other regions' water?

The article doesn't mention pumping water to California at all. The Colorado River is at the CA SE border, so potentially it could be used, but its a long way from the central valley.

Is there any region that “lives within its means” for all resources? Why is exporting or importing water so different from electricity, or food, or clothes, or iPhones?

> Is there any region that “lives within its means” for all resources? Why is exporting or importing water so different from electricity, or food, or clothes, or iPhones?

Changing the water supply changes the environment of the entire region. It's needed for human survival. Surely you can see how that's different that exporting more or fewer iPhones, right?

That isn’t the argument being made in the comment I replied to.

What exactly is you're comment responding to then? It seems to me it's relating to California's water utilization.

“Don’t build this because of environmental impact” is a very different argument than “don’t build this or else California won’t change its ways”.

Yeah, people and systems don't generally change until they have to.

Autarky ahoy!

This is the worst take that I can't avoid hearing about.

How does one build a canal that moves water uphill for 1500 miles across the continental divide in these quantities? If not a canal, then how do we do it? Pipes?

We're talking a million cubic feet per second in the Colorado river during high times, which has been completely drained and diverted by communities downstream.

The keystone pipeline carries 50 cubic feet per second. The largest pipeline in the world carries 1.5x that. Nowhere close to what a functional river provides.

So, either antigravity so the Mississippi flows uphill, or 20,000 keystone pipelines.

Desalination plus local pumping is much, much less science fiction.

How? You investigate and research!

Tunnels, alternate locations,using solar and wind to generate pump power and once operational, using a dam to supplement the pump with hydroelectric power.

I mean, this is one challenging area where the best and brightest should be well funded to come up with a solution instead of writing them off.

Desalination is not a dream either.

People are fine to talk about colonizing other planets but are so dismissive of acheivable goals like this.

Trillions are spent on wars, a fraction of that can be used to desalinate water or create artificial rivers and tunnels to fill up artificial lakes.

My idea personally has been to build in parallel to the interstar highways and complement it with high speed railways and artificial rivers. The resulting econominc boom will pay for the cost and you don't need to print money, it can be bonded because you charge for the infrasteucture usage (train,power,car charger and water fees).

Bonds are a way of printing money, debt in general is how money is printed weirdly enough. And look, maybe our big ideas could focus on something that isn't solvable by just not trying to grow food in the desert or if we absolutely must doing it in a place that doesn't have plenty of land that isn't desert

The problem is places that aren't deserts are national parks, what you call the deserts are multiple entire states! I keep hearing your argument, what is this place that isn't a desert people should be farming and building on? Any place west if the missisipi that hasn't already been incorporated, what is it?

Why do you insist it isn't solvable?the tech is there, the money is there, the will is there. Do you have a better solution that acheives the dam goal or is your idea "someone else should figure it out?" Not being dismissive, I would like to know what it is. Population will grow and areas that are already occupied will become less and less habitable. Where else should people live in Nevada? In California, it is already filled with people to the brim in and out of the dessert.

Nothing here isn't solvable, but we have a lot of problems and is this the best use of our limited resources? There are places in the continental us with plenty of water and land that could be used for agriculture. Lots of states like Ohio have returned to forests and probably many other states as well. I like forests, they're cool, but we could totally have less of them. It's also not like we'd need to move all the farms. The west does have water, just not quite enough.

I'm also just very unimpressed by this particular letter to the editor. Maybe it's a good idea, but it definitely doesn't sell it

The problem is with forests you destroy existing wildlife and climate change is a big deal. You want more trees not less. Transofrming the west adds more trees (good for climate), economic growth, less food shortage, homelessness and indirectly less social unrest and instability as well. It will solve many problems because it addresses a root cause of many problems: lack of resources and opportunity. Water+Space+renewable power is the answer.

The root cause of homelessness in the west is lack of dense housing construction. Water is overwhelmingly used by agriculture. I'm not going to say it will never make sense to launch a massive project like this, but certainly it wouldn't be free of ecological impacts either

People don't want to live in apartments and the agriculture not only feeds the whole country by a non-negligible amount but also powers the local economy. You are right about ecological impact, would you rather cut down more trees or grow new ones though?

Well yeah, but we don’t let apartments get built across huge swaths of cities, that might be contributing. If apartments were nice, new, and cheap people might feel differently, or maybe not idk. And yeah trees are great, but we’ve used most of that land for agriculture before, we just stopped because it was slightly cheaper in the west when we pretended that there was enough water out there. Where as, idk that there is any clear idea what turning Arizona green would do to the rest of the climate of the US


Research isn't magic. The first step of research for problem solving is to establish a trade space and go with the most viable route first.

If you want research into how to divert the Mississippi River to Arizona, you've started off backwards.

The problem is lack of renewable water in socal, AZ, CO, Las Vegas, etc, and the solution might be just to reduce demand, increase reclamation, and add in some new renewable water sources like desalination. That seems insanely more viable. Let's see that study first.

You are trying to solve the problem of lack of water to existing people who live there. The problem at the core is the area is arid and infertile. You are trying to solve the immediate problem instead of the root cause.

Fundamentally altering these areas will not only solve the immediate problem but cause economic growth and solve a myriad of other problems like food shortages, homelessness,etc... you are talking about the equivalent of repairing roads, I am suggesting building the equivalent of the interstate highways which were until recently the biggest spending ever and resulted in the biggest economic growth ever.

> 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.

Pumping water 4000 ft would use as much energy as desalinating seawater.

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