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A wet idea

Letter from Andy Burns

Water – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine


I was talking to a guy over here in Pitkin. He showed me a form letter from Ken Chlouber thanking him for his “ideas” and going on about supporting Colorado farmers, ranchers and developers, etc.

Guy’s name was Les. I asked him if he thought Chlouber had actually read his ideas. He shrugged. I asked him what his ideas were.

He gave me a general sketch of how the Mississippi River overflows its banks every year and causes millions of dollars damage.

Put up some levees and collect the water, thus avoiding property damage. Pump the water to eastern Colorado from somewhere around St. Louis. Irrigate north and south along the way.

It made sense to me. On the surface. But I don’t know anything about water other than what I read in Colorado Central, and it’s all about taking water from the western slope.

Surely the idea has already been considered. Hasn’t it?

Andy Burns

Santa Fé

Dear Andy,

Unfortunately, it would take lots of power to pump water uphill 1,200-plus miles and 4,000 feet from the floodplains of the Mississippi to Colorado. And power generation is not only expensive, it consumes a considerable amount of water (and often depends upon oil and coal resources which are not as renewable as water).

So to pump enough water uphill to matter, you would have to use lots of water and other resources, which would also have to be transported from their place of origin. And that makes large-scale, long-distance uphill water transport impractical — at this time.

In fact, the lofty nature of the Gunnison country is one of the primary reasons front-range cities look toward it for water — because moving water out of the Gunnison region is largely a matter of collecting it in a high mountain reservoir, then letting it flow downhill (albeit through very expensive spillways, channels, pipes, and other contrivances).

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that such novel solutions won’t ever be used. I’ve read about far more unlikely-sounding proposals being made by experts — such as controlling rain, manufacturing water from hydrogen and oxygen, establishing vast pipeline systems down from Canada, and regularly hauling icebergs south to California. Such things don’t sound very practical now, given our present technology and infrastructure, but population growth and technical advances may make them more credible in the future.

Anyway, this frustrating relationship between power and water, is something George Sibley addresses in his May 2006 Colorado Central column (which reflects upon how ancient and modern Phoenix zone dwellers have dealt with their water problems).