John Phipps: Why Can't the U.S. Figure Out a Way to Move Water From the Great Lakes to the West?

Regular viewer Eric Smassanow asks a question that pops up from often during droughts:

“Why has the government never taken action besides Lake Mead to move water around the country like we do energy? Seems like there are many times pumping water west from the east would help both regions.”

As the western US continues to suffer a 22-year megadrought, it is hard not to look at a map and zero in on the Great Lakes as the obvious solution. All we need to do is pump some of that excess fresh water west – like this idea from William Shatner to pump Lake Superior water to the Green River and on to Lake Mead. After all the Great Lakes are one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world.

This idea faces some huge hurdles.

California alone uses the same amount of water as the entire Red River flow. Even supplying a fraction of that would take pipes beyond imagination. Canals would suffer enormous evaporative loss. The water would have to be pumped over the Rocky Mountains – a roughly 6000 foot lift.

Read More: Water Shortage is the Number One Concern for this California Dairy Producer

Power costs alone to move that much would make the water extremely expensive. But the biggest problem would be political: every governor adjacent to the Great Lakes, the Canadian and US government, not to mention all the states along the way would have to agree. Color me doubtful that would happen.

The economic and environmental impacts are almost incalculable.

Besides we can watch China as its love of monumental projects has it building something on this scale – a water diversion network that together would stretch from Boston to Caracas, Venezuela. This mammoth undertaking is already looks undersupplied and overpriced.

There is a more obvious answer staring water-short states in the face. Agriculture uses 50-80 percent of western water supplies. Our out-dated water laws will soon be under intense attack to free ag water for residents.

For example, as the Great Salt Lake disappears, Salt Lake City is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the US. Using 80 percent of Utah’s water supply for ag when domestic demand there will exceed supply around 2040 looks unworkable to me.

While I am confident water shortages will be managed by states and municipalities, moving water from the Great Lakes is a pipe dream.


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