The federal government has come up with dozens of ways to enhance the diminishing flow of the Colorado River, which has long struggled to keep seven states and roughly 25 million people hydrated.
Among the proposals in a report by the Bureau of Reclamation, portions of which leaked out in advance of its expected release this week, are traditional solutions to water shortages, like decreasing demand through conservation and increasing supply through reuse or desalination projects.
But also in the mix, and expected to remain in the final draft of the report, is a more extreme and contentious approach. It calls for building a pipeline and exporting huge amounts of water from the Missouri River 600 miles to the west and nearly a mile high to store in Denver-area reservoirs and dole out, as needed, to reservoirs and groundwater basins along the way in Kansas.
Experts say such an ambitious plan is reminiscent of those proposed in the middle of the last century, when grand and exorbitant federal water-project plans were commonplace — and not, with the benefit of hindsight, always advisable.
The pipeline option would provide the Colorado River basin with 600,000 acre-feet of water annually, which could serve roughly a million single-family homes. But the loss of so much water from the Missouri and Mississippi River systems, which require flows high enough to sustain large vessel navigation, would likely face strong political opposition.
Burke Griggs, the counsel for the Kansas Agriculture Department’s division of water resources, said the proposal “shows you the degree to which water-short entities in the Colorado River basin are willing to go to get water" from elsewhere, rather than fight each other over dwindling supplies, as they have, intermittently, for about a century.