Want some Missouri water? Colorado, get in line

Map of the proposed pipeline, by the New York Times.  Click on the image to go to the full article.

Or: “A contentious pipeline (and I don’t mean Keystone XL)”

Or: “Colorado vs. Mississippi tug o’ war over the Missouri”

The slices of the Colorado River pie are getting cut thinner and thinner.  With growing populations in southwestern cities and increased needs for irrigation, doling out the dwindling supplies of the Colorado River has reached such a dried up state that government agents are suggesting piping water from the Missouri River 600 miles across Kansas to Denver.  The federal Bureau of Reclamation (part of the Department of the Interior) will be releasing a report this week proposing a constellation of options for mediating growing concern over water supplies for the ~25 million people who rely on the Colorado River, reports the NYTimes.

However, only days ago the NYTimes also reported that the US Army Corps of Engineers (responsible for all navigable US waterways) denied requests to release more water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River.  This request was made to help raise the Mississippi River water levels to aid barge transportation, currently struggling with rock outcrops impeding navigation now that the Mississippi River is at such low levels from the on-going drought.  With Mississippi River transportation already in danger a proposal to tap into the Missouri River, which empties into the Mississippi River, is extreme.  Industries such as agriculture, coal, shipping, and petroleum rely on the Mississippi River as the backbone for transporting a large fraction of their products.  The Army Corps has hired contractors to dig or blast away rock formations impeding navigation now that the water level is so low in the Mississippi.  Fighting over who gets a fair share of the Colorado River is not new news; fighting over who gets a fair share of the Missouri River is new news (at least according to this gumshoe), and it highlights the severity of the water scarcity problems in the US.

Just before Thanksgiving, the US and Mexico signed a new version of the treaty delineating how the Colorado River water is shared and managed, reported the NYTimes.  The last time the two countries signed such a document was over sixty years ago in 1944.   So many stakeholders rely on the Colorado for water, the river has become famous for drying up before it ever reaches the Gulf of California (see NASA photo below).  The treaty lays out a plan for the US to assist Mexico in restoring the river delta’s now desert-like wetland, which was historically an important stop over for migrating birds and was about two million acres in size.  Read more about the ecology of the disappearing river delta from the Sonoran Institute and how it has affected the native community in this National Geographic article.

Photo of the Colorado River Delta taken on September 8, 2000, by the Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), flying aboard the Terra spacecraft. Click on the photo to go to the full story at earthobservatory.nasa.gov.

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