The fight for water: Can the mighty Mississippi save the West?

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  • Meg Stout ANNANDALE, VA
    May 16, 2012 5:35 p.m.

    Having friends in the rest of the world, I see that most everyone ourside the US "gets" that water is a concern. It's not just lawns. It's about whether people in the world and the US will be able to eat.

    Even though nearly half of all municiple water goes to landscaping, a recent study* shows 93% of all fresh water goes to agriculture. That's plants we eat, feed for animals we eat eat, and plant-based products.

    Xeriscaping and aquaponic landscaping could significantly reduce landscaping water use - useful to the pocketbook and if done right, downright lucrative to those who grab the leading edge of the art of making beautiful future landscapes.

    There's a zeitgeist leading people to pay for "green." Science and politics don't matter so much in the face of such a trend. I say someone who stays stuck in the past for ideological reasons deserves to "miss out" on the premium commanded by those who hone their craft to meet perceived need.

    * Hoekstra, A.Y. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2012) The water footprint of humanity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(9): 3232–3237

  • John in CS Colorado Springs, CO
    May 16, 2012 2:24 p.m.

    While I commend the reporter for this series of articles, I was shocked to see the idea of pumping water from the Mississippi being resurrected.

    The idea of pumping water from the Mississippi River was proposed about a half century ago. It was detailed in Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert (1986. I am surprised the reporter did not mention this source. One of the many problems with this idea is the number of dedicated power plants that would be needed to pump the water uphill over nearly 1000 miles. At the time the plans used Nuclear Power Plants. If you have an interest in water history in the West, Cadillac Desert is the place to start.

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    May 14, 2012 4:48 p.m.

    The water spent having grass and trees is not wasted. Both are beautiful and I believe both help cool down the hot summers.

    I've seen yards with native Utah plants and they are also beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful, but they don't do much to help make the summers any cooler.

  • pharmacist South Jordan, UT
    May 14, 2012 3:41 p.m.

    The Yellowstone River emptys into the Missouri River, which then dumps into the Missippi River. Can water be piped from the Yellowstone easier and cheaper than waiting for the water to flow that far East?

  • Mary E Petty Sandy, UT
    May 14, 2012 1:50 p.m.

    I love the quality/choice/access of life that is available here in America.Is this way of life sustainable or are the doomsayers going to get their way (civilization is headed for a return to the ice age for the majority.)

    Future's big question: Who will have the choice/access to live - shuttling at will between rural and city life with their all varying amenities/access to modern civilization or caveman-like- existence? Frankly, I like living in a modern world and don't want to go back to a future with a 3rd world cave existence for the majority. I reject the vision of the elite who see modern life as only for the few because their economic/political system only supports access/choice for their chosen. You know darn right that no matter what happens, those that have the power and are the affirmative action elite-chosen ones - they will have the quality, the choices and the access to modern comforts.

    My answer: We the People must choose the principles of Love (God and Thy Neighbor as Thy Self) to create the Future where there is room and resources enough to spare for all.

  • Invisible Hand Provo, UT
    May 14, 2012 1:01 p.m.

    "I would hate to see us get into the situation where water rates are so expensive that only the people who have a lot of money can have grass and trees,"

    This quote illustrates the tragedy of the commons. We need to figure out who owns the water and let those owners (states) sell it at market rates (after assuring that the ecosystem has what it needs, another argument altogether). Maybe it doesn't make sense to farm here in the desert. Maybe it doesn't make sense to have golf courses or lawns. I don't know the answer, but I'm confident that the free market knows if we would allow it to work.

  • William Gronberg Payson, UT
    May 14, 2012 12:48 p.m.

    Per Midwest Mom: “So in addition to piping Midwestern water, Mr. Gronberg wants to create an immigrant pipeline to sustain his local economy?”

    I suggest a re-read of what I wrote. I only wrote an analysis of why I think “the present dominant economic system” requires more people and therefore more water. My analysis is probably half baked at best because there are probably many other factors I did not think of and I only have 200 words. Nowhere did I endorse the half baked idea of moving Mississippi River water uphill one vertical mile.

    As for the immigrant pipeline, that is reality. I did not say it should be created, it is the real world now and has been for a very long time. Money drives the immigrant pipeline. Our government needs young taxpayers, other governments need to reduce their underemployed populations, banks need to make loans, real estate salesmen need young families to sell homes to, lumber producers and carpenters need customers, etc. etc.

    Even IF I have the problem correctly analyzed, the cure may be worse than the disease. Those who have all the answers are probably “quacks”.

  • Midwest Mom Soldiers Grove, WI
    May 14, 2012 12:38 p.m.

    "The financial interests in the West" have "invested" in a desert. Protect it, yes, but it is a desert. If you don't want to live in a desert, invest some place else. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently "invested" in 6,000 acres of Missouri. Pay attention.

    May 14, 2012 11:44 a.m.

    "Waste not - Want NOT"
    We who live in an arid climate area do NOT need England type landscaping.

  • BYU Track Star Los Angeles, CA
    May 14, 2012 10:37 a.m.

    "Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for Fighting" (Mark Twain) I'm sure the Water Managers in Utah have read the recent Cal-Berkeley weather forecasts extending out to mid-Century. It isn't pretty. The studies bottom line is that should weather patterns hold, the Rain and Snow fall will not be able to support the populations in the US West. Cities like Phoenix, Vegas, the Wasatch Front will have chronic water shortages. The study concludes and says Millions of people will have to relocate somewhere east of the Mississippi River to be where the water is. IMHO, I think the study conclusion is wrong. Prehaps bringing in some of the Mississippi water to the West is part of of menu of solutions. Los Angeles is about 100 years ahead of Utah in the sense that L.A. has three (or four) sources of water. I've heard natural runoff could only support 200,000 Angelenos. Now with these three additional water sources 19 Million of us have water to live on. Finally, there is another axiom "Water flows to money". The financial interests in the West need to start a conversation on how to protect their investments.

  • Midwest Mom Soldiers Grove, WI
    May 14, 2012 10:19 a.m.

    So in addition to piping Midwestern water, Mr. Gronberg wants to create an immigrant pipeline to sustain his local economy? Economies stagnate when nothing new is created. Service-based economies are merely an exchanging of wealth. The answers can't come from always looking to profit from someone else. America is firmly entrenched in the pride cycle, where so-called "Job Creators" are worshiped in the hopes that they will trickle down the crumbs from their tables.

    May 14, 2012 10:13 a.m.

    And when water is diverted from one river to another what is to prevent the translocation of non-native and invasive species? There's a lot to consider here.

  • CougarinVegas HENDERSON, NV
    May 14, 2012 10:06 a.m.

    I think pipeline along the coast from the mouth of the Columbia River to Southern California should be studied. It might even be placed in the ocean. The Columbia River dumps more water in the ocean in a week than Nevada uses in a year. Use that water in California so more Colorado River water can be diverted to users further north in the Colorado Basin. That project may be technically easier than the Mississippi pipeline referred to in this article. All options should be looked at.

  • Hoosier in Utah Spanish Fork, UT
    May 14, 2012 9:46 a.m.

    The real problem is a refusal to adjust to one's environment. Fancy yards filled with rather useless grass are a relic from English manors. That's right: Great Britain, known for its dreary (i.e., rainy) weather. I'll even admit rather enjoying walking barefoot upon lush sod in my home state, where green lawns don't need much water supplementation beyond what falls from the sky.

    But I live in Utah now. It never ceases to amaze me that people still want their yards to look like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. And while I also like to golf, the amazingly green courses of Mesquite are a stark contrast to the barren red hills surrounding them.

    Bottom line, maybe it is time to start charging for water what it is worth. I can play on a golf course that is frugal with water management and smart with which materials it uses. Anyone who wants to pretend we don't live in a desert should be prepared to pay accordingly.

  • DVD Taylorsville, 00
    May 14, 2012 9:33 a.m.

    @georgeman: Really? Ouch. Most of that water isn't even reaching the root systems before it evaporates, is it?

    To topic: Are there stretches of the river that pass through areas where water evaporates, but the evaporation doesn't benefit much locally? Would it be beneficial to simply place structures that reduce the evaporation nearby by reflecting sunlight that would otherwise reach the water, or even recapture the evaporated water and store it or reintroduce it to the river?

    The structures themselves could even be used for additional purposes, depending on the local need.

  • William Gronberg Payson, UT
    May 14, 2012 9:10 a.m.

    There are two forces that keep this “world” turning. They are inertia and money. It is the latter that drives the need and want for more water in the Southwestern United States. The present dominant economic system absolutely must have an ever growing population. Just getting a stagnant population to ever increase its needs and wants for more goods and services will not by itself produce enough money. More young people, who want more goods and services, are a very major force that will produce more money. Where can the people with money and power get more young people. The answer is not getting the majority American population to have more babies. Most households require two paychecks to just sustain the wants and needs of a family of four. There is no growth in population there. Only immigration will produce the young and large families needed. Immigration brings more people and also stimulates internal migration to the dry Southwest. Ever expanding cities and towns are an absolute must to keep the real estate, lumber, hardware, furniture and construction industry healthy and producing the money that is needed and wanted. Follow the money.

  • Pete1215 Lafayette, IN
    May 14, 2012 8:32 a.m.

    Charge people the true cost of the water. Do not subsidize water for the west via Federal price breaks (i.e. from the pockets of We The People). Mississippi water would then be price-prohibitive.

  • Midwest Mom Soldiers Grove, WI
    May 14, 2012 8:17 a.m.

    Ironic that many don't believe in the science of climate change yet want to reserve the right to grab the water that belongs to others in order to promote their unsustainable lifestyles, just in case. You want the desert, you get the desert. You want grass, go where it grows. Ridiculous to spend money sending water to where it is not naturally occurring. Also great political spin to try and promote siphoning off the Mississippi to "save" those of us who live with it from flood waters. As though that pipeline would be turned off when there are no floods. Right. The Colorado basin states have shown how well they act as resource stewards. They're wrecking their economy, we graciously decline the favor to join them in self destruction.

  • georgeman Kearns, UT
    May 14, 2012 7:57 a.m.

    Conservation should be at the top of the list. I now live in St. George, Utah and the residents here use way to much water. I would say 70-80% of my neighbors water their lawn every day in the heat of the day. Nothing like throwing water on your grass at 3pm in 100 degree weather. I say if St. George wants a pipeline, make them earn it with conservation first, otherwise let them go dry until they learn to use wisely.

  • one old man Ogden, UT
    May 14, 2012 7:33 a.m.

    Wouldn't sensible controls on runaway development help?

  • atl134 Salt Lake City, UT
    May 14, 2012 1:49 a.m.

    And yet some people think we need to increase the population...

  • JSB Sugar City, ID
    May 13, 2012 9:30 p.m.

    Would diverting water that feeds the Great Salt Lake (such as Bear River) be a good idea? I don't think so. The water from the lake effect of the GSL provides the water for the Wasatch mountain watershed. We should try to grow the lake if possible, then there would be more evaporation resulting in more snow in the watershed. I think. Are there any scientists that can predict the effect if the lake dried up or if it expanded?

  • David Centerville, UT
    May 13, 2012 8:30 p.m.

    I would favor government policies that reward conservation now rather than wait until the need grows desperate.

  • RG Buena Vista, VA
    May 13, 2012 8:25 p.m.

    Very interesting article; what I would really like to see is a map of the possible canal system diverting Mississippi River water into the Navajo into the San Juan into the Colorado River. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this one would be useful. And ps, I agree with 3grandslams.

  • 3grandslams Iowa City, IA
    May 13, 2012 7:49 p.m.

    Before all these decisions are made, everyone needs real science on global warming, get rid of the hocus pocus and false reports and flat out lies which have been admitted by pro-global warming scientists and get some fact sactioned by both sides of the scientific debate. Until that is done, there is not reason to start making drastic decisons on partisan information.