Missouri water to Nevada?

Missouri water to Nevada?

A U.S. Interior Department report issued Dec. 12 predicts the Colorado River Basin states will experience a supply/demand “imbalance” of 3.2 million acre-feet of water within 48 years. Nevada is one of the seven states in the Basin.

In a separate project, Interior also solicited suggestions for how to solve the impending Colorado River Basin water shortage. Many of them, such as moving an iceberg south, were not taken seriously, but U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said they would evaluate a proposal called the “Missouri River Reuse Project” which involves a pipeline to bring water from the Missouri River Basin to the West.

The study found that the 700-mile pipeline would be less expensive and would supply more water than other proposed alternatives that were examined. Its construction would cost nearly $9 billion with yearly operating costs of $1 billion.

The Interior Department said in a press release that the Dec. 12 report was “prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states,” which led the Associated Press to issue a story headlined “Missouri River water sought by Western states.”

But the report itself never mentions Nevada’s state government, which appears not to have been a participant. The report did name the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), a county-level agency, as participating. SNWA is the agency that is seeking to take water from western Utah and eastern Nevada to supply the Las Vegas area with additional water, and its director, Patricia Mulroy, was quick to embrace the Missouri pipeline, too.

“Maybe it’s time for us to look at marrying the concepts of flood control and drought protection,” the Associated Press quoted Mulroy saying. “We’ve seen in the middle portion of the country some devastating flooding going on. Should we be talking about preserving those floodwaters somehow and not putting New Orleans at risk and some of the other communities at risk year after year?”

But Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said, “It’s a 19th-century project that has no place in the 21st century. Nevada has a bitter history with such projects, as the first Bureau of Reclamation … project in Nevada, the Newlands Project that diverted water from the Truckee River to the Lahontan Valley, caused the complete extinction of the Pyramid Lake Cutthroat Trout. It also killed Lake Winnemucca, where my grandfather told me of seeing so many ducks and geese that they ‘blotted out the sun.’ It’s not only gone, it’s totally forgotten. We will fight this ill-conceived boondoggle with allies in other states, and not just those in the conservation community. Our most powerful allies will be politically powerful economic interests along the Missouri River who stand much to lose under this proposal.”

The Missouri River begins in Montana and winds through seven states, which were terminally thrilled to hear of the pipeline plan. The Kansas City Star reported, “Almost to a person this week, interests along the Missouri River said the political, legal and practical problems associated with the pipeline made its construction highly problematic.”

A CBS station in St. Louis quoted Kansas agriculture official Burke Griggs: “If this gets any traction, people in the Missouri River Basin probably will scream.”

Even Interior Secretary Ken Salazar warned the Colorado River Basin states not to count on the Missouri pipeline and urged them to look elsewhere for solutions. “There’s no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years,” he said.

National Parks Traveler said the pipeline proposal “largely ignores national parks the river flows through. Aside from passing mention in a list of parks, wildlife refuges, tribes, and national recreation areas for which the river is the ‘lifeblood,’ the voluminous report fails to discuss the value of the river to those 11 national parks … and seven wildlife refuges or outline how their water rights should be preserved.”

And federal regulators are not exactly friendly these days toward water transfers. Earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission upheld its previous denial of permitting for a pipeline from the Green River in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range.

The full Colorado River Basin report can be read at usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html.