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The Next Great Infrastructure Project

Brian Greenspun, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun, had this to say in his editorial from today:

Pat [Mulroy]’s idea is simple. It is a pipeline that would take the rising water away from the Mississippi River and transport it westward to the Colorado River where, frankly, water is in very short supply. Over the next decade or so, many millions of Baby Boomers will be retiring to the Southwest, putting a further demand on the diminishing water supply. It makes perfect sense that we should take the water no one wants and move it to a place where everyone needs it. The only thing in the way is an old argument about water laws that should no longer, well, hold water. Whatever that pipeline costs can probably be offset by the next few years of flood damage. That’s a pretty good return on investment.

There is a lot think about in that idea. It can not be denied that flooding along the Mississippi River has always been a problem, and even after billions of dollars have been spent on various flood control projects it was still necessary to intentionally flood some areas upstream in order to protect others downstream this year.

It also can not be denied that the Southwest is in serious need of water. Just look at the bathtub ring around Lake Mead!

Besides the obvious benefits to both the River and the Lake, just think of the scale of this project. How many thousands upon thousands of workers would be employed, not to mention the raw materials (much of which we have here) and the economic activity generated wherever the work is being performed. Mr. Greenspun further points out that the savings realized by preventing these devastating flloods could easily be equal to the cost of the project itself.

A project like this can be compared to the Erie Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad, projects that Whigs in the past supported. I think the Modern Whigs should look further into this idea and if it is feasible get behind it.

ClintK
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I have to wonder exactly what path the pipeline would follow. It seems like any path it could possibly follow would run into either the Arkansas or the Missouri, both of which feed back into the Mississippi, making it counter-productive. The pipe would also have to be at least 1000 miles long (reasonable to build, but to dig?), and who knows what kinds of obstructions and environmental problems it would make. If these concerns are addressed, the project will have my support.

Clint Kirchhoff
Houston, Texas

WQ1C
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Here's an idea; why not add water from the Arkansas and Missouri rivers when they flood to that pipeline (spur lines connecting to the main line)? The same goes for the Red River of the North. We managed to build the Alaskan Pipeline (which carries oil, not water), so I would think this wouldn't be an issue.

NY RIT Whig
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I oppose any efforts like this to move fresh water on such a massive scale to dry areas.

People should learn that the hot and dry areas of the Southwest simply cannot support as many people as wet river or lake areas.

Nor can people living in deserts be reasonably allowed to have swimming pools, grass lawns, and golf courses.

Retirees there can deal with it and stop whining, or move somewhere else.

I live next to a large percentage of the world's fresh water with the Great Lakes; come move here if you want the water.

Don't destroy the land's natural beauty and ecosystem stability by leeching off the rivers of places you're too lazy to move to because you "need" your precious 18 holes in Arizona.

jim
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NY RIT Whig, I understand your position, and would even agree if it were mainly a one-sided arrangement. Your point of view is constantly brought up by residents and politicians here in Nevada.

But in this case it is a two-way street where those in the flood-prone regions would benefit just as much as those in the dry areas. There has been a massive disruption of lives and many, many millions of dollars of damage done just this year alone from flooding along the Mississippi river.

This is a win-win project for everyone involved if it is feasible.

By the way, I need to research the numbers, but I think that most of the water taken from Lake Mead and the Colorado River actually goes to California, and not Nevada and Arizona. This has been a subject of "debate" for a long time and is one reason why so many buildings and streets are named "Mulholland" in Southern California.

Jim Bacon
Chairman, Whig Party of Nevada

NY RIT Whig
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Good point about the flooding...I suppose I was thinking of this too much from the perspective of someone living near freshwater LAKES, as I do, rather than dangerously flooding rivers.

In that case, there is certainly lots of "excess" water so to speak and this would be a way to reduce flooding while putting the water to some other use. And the great employment of workers would be an awesome boost.

I would still be very concerned about environmental impacts, and would still like to see South Western states impose greater zoning limitations on high water-use property features.

Then again, we have the case of Las Vegas...

But that's why we're the Whig Party; we compare costs and benefits from all angles and expert advice on environmental, economic, and social impacts, and make the best decision. I like being in a Party which thinks critically rather than just screaming rhetorical ideology.

ericcerickson
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I agree that people in dry states need to become more economical with their water usage. There need to be more opportunities for people to recycle the water they use to water their lawns, for instance. On the flip side of that, states along these rivers which flood every year need to stop development in the flood plains. I have never been able to figure out why people keep building their houses where it's going to flood. They like a little excitement in their lives, I guess.

I also agree that extensive environmental studies need to be done on this. What happens to the Gulf if these waters are diverted? Obviously some will still make it down from other places, but any water going to California wouldn't. Besides the water itself, what of the silt that washes down the river and into the Gulf every year replenishing fields and beaches? We need a lot more information.

I like the idea though, it could be a great solution to two big problems.

Eric

CAGlaucus
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This would be an impressive project, and I'm all for the idea, but as a petroleum products pipeline engineer I have some concerns.

For example, say we took the water from the Mississippi at Cairo, IL. This is where the Mississippi meets the Ohio and is far enough up river to make a huge difference if we siphoned off here for all communities down stream. At this point at the extreme low end of flow we have about 200,000cuft/s flowing through the river channel. This is approximately the same as the Niagara river, average flow is closer to 500,000 cuft/s and during flood events this can be as high as 2.5M cuft/s. This means that to stop the flooding we would need to siphon at least a million cuft/sec. That's 5 times the amount of water going over Niagara Falls every second. Now, this feat of engineering has been done on a smaller scale...Niagara falls can be "shut off" by opening the intakes to the power station to full. But this would be something at least 5 times more grand and we have a second problem. In Niagara Falls the water still falls down to the lower Niagara River when we open the intakes, all we do is divert the water through the generating station. The problem we'd be facing here is that the water needs to go uphill. Mississippi River elevation at Cairo, IL is 315' above sea level. The elevations of major southwest cities are as follows: El Paso, 3740'; Albuquerque, 5312'; Las Vegas, 2001'; Phoenix, 1150'; and Lake Mead, 1219'.

I'm not saying it's anywhere near impossible but that much water up that much elevation over that much distance has never been tried. And yes, I think it's completely doable, after all, this is America. But the cost is going to be huge, not just initial construction, but the electric power needed to run the shear number and size of pumps we're talking about is huge...astronomical.

There are numerous other technological problems that would need to be faced, but those can all be overcome, it's the initial and upkeep costs that have me worried.

Very Respectfully,
A Modern California Glaucus

jim
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It's good to have some feedback from someone in the field. Spurred by what you said about the amount of energy that will be needed for pumping, is it reasonable to think that some of it, at least in the Southwest regions, can come from solar plants? Granted, solar's big drawback is that it is not a 24/7 source, but I could see a project of this scope providing a huge boost to that industry as well if within the bounds of reason.

Jim Bacon
Chairman, Whig Party of Nevada

ericcerickson
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Also, I was wondering if we could place turbines in the pipes once they start flowing downhill on the other side of the mountains? Solar/wind power along the rout, as Jim suggested could power a lot of it I think.

Eric

CAGlaucus
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Yes, you can put turbines on the downhill side and re-coop almost the entire energy it took to push the water to the peak. But the base elevation change is un-recoopable. Solar power is all well and good, but it's gonna be huge. The non-24/7 aspect of solar power can be moderated by using them to charge batteries or capacitors and then drawing power off of that. To be able to cope for an extended period of time though and not counting losses we need approximately 41.6 gigawatts (yes we could send the DeLorian back to the future 34 times) of power to continuously pump that million cubic feet, or 62 million pounds of water every second. If that was done in solar panels at a 29% theoretic maximum efficiency, and not counting pump losses or friction, that would be 42 square miles (twice the size of Manhattan) of panels with constant sun directly overhead. But the Earth turns and we don't own property on the equator so if the panels were at 32 degrees of latitude with 12 hours of sunlight, and this is just rough estimating, we'd need about 220 square miles of solar panels or 140500 acres. About the size of Chicago. Doable, but difficult and expensive, and that's for a modest 1000 foot total elevation gain. There would still need to be power enough to push the water over the peak and we better have some darn good turbines on the downhill side for that. I love the idea of this project, the challenges would be awesome.

Very Respectfully,
A Modern California Glaucus

CAGlaucus
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A much, much, much cheaper and easier project would just be to build the same pipeline directly down to the ocean. No pumps, no environmental impact and it would pay for itself so much faster.

Very Respectfully,
A Modern California Glaucus

jim
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One thing that needs to be borne in mind, what is the impact of a lack of flooding? Does there need to be a provision for controlled floods to replenish nutrients in the surrounding fields?

From a purely flood control standpoint building a pipe to the Gulf would be easier. That still leaves the Southwest looking for water.

Desalination would be the obvious choice, but that isn't coming down in cost any time soon, it seems. Of course, if SoCal would go to something like that then the entire water issue for Nevada and Arizona would disappear and Lake Mead would return to its full glory in a very short time.

Jim Bacon
Chairman, Whig Party of Nevada

CAGlaucus
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Touche with regards to SoCal, but with a population of over 20M in LA, Orange, SD, and Ventura Counties SoCal has more than double the population of Arizona and Nevada combined. SoCal will be buying the Colorado River water for a good long time. And that supplies less than a quarter of the water to Los Angeles

Desalinization is certainly a viable option though and more feasible in California only because we're on the coast. Once a breaking point is reached in cost of water for Angelenos, desalinization plants will spring up practically over night. The basic technology is a hundred years old. It's a matter of economics, supply and demand and 20million people can demand a lot.

Very Respectfully,
A Modern California Glaucus

Jeff Vanke
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Since the US has no shortage of land near freshwater sources, the costs of such a diversion should be borne by the end consumers, ideally through their water bills, since for example Reno inhabitants probably don't want to pay higher state taxes for Las Vegas water (whatever the arguments of indirect economic benefits to Reno from Las Vegas growth, etc.). I see little prospect for property owners in the non-coastal southwest agreeing to the massive tax increases required to fund such a mega-aqueduct. Those tax increases would ironically drive away the retirees and businesses that the water were intended for.

To be effective for flood control, one of two things would be required. Either the water volume steadily diverted would be so massive that Mississippi shores would retreat dramatically from present positions to the hue and outcry of states along that shore, not to mention shipping traffic along the river. Or the infrastructure would have to have enormous extra capacity sitting dry -- at what cost, tens or hundreds of billions? -- to deal with those once-a-decade or so severe flooding incidents, which is much less cost effective than just compensating the sparsely populated farmland owners who got deliberately flooded a few months ago. All that's to say, there is no way that flood control would be served by a trans-American mega-aqueduct.

The scary thing is, the past century -- when the southwest has developed -- has been one of the wettest centuries for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, as read in the geological record. Rainwater and snow melt are likely to keep declining (even without global warming).

Twitchy
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I have just two thoughts to throw in on this one.

Would we need more than one pipeline to handle the volume?

Would such a pipeline be used for more than a month or two every year?

CAGlaucus
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Twitchy, to answer your thoughts...1. yes/no, depends on the design. 2. no, and probably even less

Very Respectfully,
A Modern California Glaucus

ericcerickson
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Might be cheaper to pump it short distances into large holding tanks and then into trucks or rail cars for transport. Especially since it's only going to be used for a very short period each year.

Eric

DrJCA1
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Just a quickie comment about this site and the comments. Thank god there are still intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful people in the US. I am so tired of reading comments that basically call each other names and spout rhetoric and garbage instead of brain-fed words and sentences. I'm looking forward to being part of this community. Thanks again.

Trident
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Environmentally, diversions of the Mississippi have already severely damaged the delta region. Economically, the pipeline would either remain idle for most of its life, or, as has been the pattern in the past, would take from the river all of the time, good years or bad. If it remains idle, it is of little use except under extreme conditions. The non-flooding savings would no offset the cost of the project and, more importantly, the infrastructure needed to maintain the project. If you let it pump all year, the cost to the states along the Mississippi due to changes in the river level would outstrip the benefits to the Southwest. Ask the people in the Owens Valley of California what year-round pumping means. Finally, from a practical standpoint, we do not know the consequences of such a large diversion. The best we can do is model what we believe will happen based on the available research. I am not aware of any serious research conducted on a project of this scale. For example, what would the consequences along the New Madrid fault be with a change in the weight of the river, the change in the aquifer level, and the possible change in the river's course?

krazychemist78
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Interesting idea. I'm not sure that it's a good one. One point I have not seen mentioned is the transportation of invasive species from one part of the country to another. Some information I think that would be useful to know - 1. How much time does the river spend at flood stage per year? 1. IMpact of invasive species/chemical pollutants on a new environment? 3. Costs of the pipeline system and maintenance vs average flood costs and transporting of water by other means. 4. Physical requirements of collecting, and pumping that volume of water across that distance up that change in incline? These things need to be known in exquisite detail before a decision can be made. I honestly think that point-of-use conservation needs to be explored further before we tackle such a monumentally costly project.

David Wilson
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If I may be so bold as to offer up a history lesson. During what is now known as the dust bowl or the dirty thirtys, severe drought coupled with poor farming methods created one of this centuries worst ecological nightmares.

We as humans have always saught mastery of nature, and in almost every endevor we undertake to do so, we fail, and in the rare event that we succeed, such as the Hoover Dam or the Pamama Canal, that success comes with a heavy toll on the environment and on human life. Granted in the modern age, human life can be protected far better than it could have been in those examples, but the environmental toll would still be them same.

The annual flooding of the mississippi river and its tributaries have since the dawn of time provided the great plaines with the moisture and nutirents needed to sustain the vast farm land we now rely on to feed our ever growing population. To presume that we should drain away some of this water to be used in a desert region is, in my opinion, a flawed presumption.

Not only would draining the mississippi basin be detrimental to the river system, which includes not only the grasslands of the great plains, but the wetlands of Lousiana and Mississippi, and ultimatly the Gulf of Mexico and the ecosystem of the desert SW. The flora and fauana of the SW has adapted to having very little water, and the water it does get, it gets from seasonal weather patterns. If we moved water from a place whos environment demanded it to sustain it ecosystems, to a place where water is not only not needed by nature, but would be devestating to the dry ecosystem is envorinmental homocide.

Nature will only bend to the will of human kind for so long before it brakes, just as it did in the thirtys. Nowhere in modern times is the impact of tampering with an ecosystems water supply more evident than in my home state of Florida. In the past thirty years alone, Florida has lost 10% of its wetlands, one of the most unique and pristine ecosystems in the world, to drainage for development. We too in Florida, like the SW have experienced a population boom from seniors coming to live here. As a Floridian, I see on a daily basis the damage caused to our environment by tampering with the water system. Environmentaly, its a very bad idea.

As for the labour aspect of the arguement, yes this construction project will create new jobs, but for how long? Once the pipeline is finished, those who helped build it will find themselves once again unemployeed, just as many of the men who built the Hoover Dam and Panama Canal did so many years ago. I agree that a massive effort to rebuild our nations infrastructure is paramount to the success of our nation and its citizens, and yes this rebuild will produce its share of ecological challanges, but to so directly interfere with the working of one ecosystem to 'benifit' another creates more problems than solutions. It may well change both ecosystems beyond their ability to cope. Not to mention, we have no way of knowing weather a pipeline would solve the problem at all, not when so many states in the mississippi river watershed are experiencing the worst drought since the dust bowl.

More efficent use of the existing water supply in the desert SW should be the first step to solving this problem. Golf courses in Phoenix for retired seniors enjoyment are not nearly as important, to me, as the health and well being of our countires natural resources. This of course is only my opinion, and as such, may be wrong, but I feel that this proposal is not only shortsighted, but environmentally ignorant.

David Wilson
Zephyrhills Florida

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!"

JohnGalt
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Instead of the plan mentioned in the article, the following plan should be implemented:

1. Build huge water holding tanks (or water towers) near Mississippi. When the Mississippi floods, some water can be piped into these tanks. Here, water can be treated. 2. Build a small pipe with a low flow capacity (at most 6 inches in diameter) from the tanks to the Southwest. This way, the pipe is most economical since it will be in use pumping the water to the Southwest all year. Also, this will reduce the amount of electricity required to pipe the water (since less is being piped at once). In addition, this will provide a more constant water supply to the Southwest (instead of a ton of water once a year).

What do you think?

Twitchy
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How large would those holding tanks have to be?

Is that, in itself, practical?

JohnGalt
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The holding containers would be more like a reservoir or large pool than a water tower. The reservoir would be next to the river about four feet above where the water should be (depending on the situation). During a flood (usually in the spring), the water would rise up flow into the reservoir until the reservoir is full. During the rest of the year, this water would be pumped to the southwest. That way, by the time the next flood rolls around, the reservoir would be empty and ready to be filled back up again. Say you have a reservoir 25 feet deep by 2,500 feet wide by 2,500 feet across. This would hold 375 million cubic feet, or 2.8125 billion gallons of water. This may seem big, but it would be a fraction of the size of most landfills, so it is very practical. Say it fills up with water once a year during a flood. You would need a pipe carrying 5,347.5 gallons of water per minute running 24/7 to have it emptied out in a year. A 14 inch in diameter steel pipe can carry 6,000 gallons of water per minute, so a 13 ¾ inch in diameter pipe would carry the water with time to spare.
The average water usage in Arizona per capita is 58,440 gallons per year. One of these reservoirs would therefore supply 48,126 Arizonans with water. If there were 10-12 of these scattered about the most flood prone areas of the Mississippi and its tributaries, it would mitigate Arizona’s water shortage problem. 11 of these reservoirs would supply enough water for all of Tucson (which has about 520,000 residents).
It would take a lot of electricity to power the pumps for the water. Much of this power can actually be harvested by turbines on the bottom of the Mississippi River. Turbines on the Lower Mississippi River could generate 5,371 MW (5.371 GW) of power alone. Other energy sources (especially solar once the pipe reaches the Southwest) could be used as a supplemental energy supply for the pumps.
The environmental impact of these reservoirs would be minimal. Screens would be placed where the water comes into the reservoir to prevent any fish or other wildlife from being washed out of the river.
Not only does this help the Southwest, but it helps the would-be flood victims along the Mississippi River. Instead of water flooding people’s houses, it goes into the reservoir. Even if the reservoir does fill up and the surrounding area floods, the flooding wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it would be without the reservoirs. The size of the reservoirs don’t have to be exactly what I have used as an example, so they could be altered depending on the space available, degree of flooding, etc.

gene
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I am the furthest thing from a civil engineer, but am enjoying all these great thoughts.

RAGE ON!

Gene Chaas
NY CO

PB2Y
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Divert water from the Mississippi to the southwest so baby boomers can water their golf courses?? What about the ecology of the Mississippi and its wildlive? Sorry, the southwest has a natural limit to the number of people it can support, with or without retirement communities. Just look what "engineering" has done to the Colorado River, it doesn't even reach the sea anymore! If water was diverted from the Mississippi within 30 years there would be a marked impact on the lands downstream. Everytime there is a huge water project like this it causes environmental damage. The Great Lakes have seen considerable damage caused by the St.Lawrence Seaway from polution to invasive species that show up not only on the Great Lakes but in bodies of water such as the Finger Lakes. Instead of these projects, the emphasis should be on developing environmental friendly solutions such as waterless toilets, higher efficiency appliances and reducing the demand for energy. 

MAGGIEB
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I just learned about the Modern Whig Party so I am testing the water (so to say).  My mother is from Michigan so I have spent lots of time in Michigan and love every minute there.  Is Nestle still draining the Great Lakes?  I do not how taking from one person or group to give to another is freedom.  As a Republic we are nothing if we cannot have and use laws for the people.  We have experienced crony capitalism far to long.

 

Duffy
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I am sorry maggie. I am from Indiana, and I assume you mean Nestle the candy corporation? Draining the Great Lakes? This would be a new one one on me.

Agree with everything else you posted, but I have never heard of anyone draining the Great Lakes.

Duffy

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