Pipeline from the Mississippi River to eastern Colorado?

Mississippi River Basin

Here’s a look at hay farmer Gary Hausler’s idea to build a pumpback pipeline from the Mississippi River to Colorado’s eastern plains, from Joe Hanel writing for the Durango Herald. From the article:

The Gunnison rancher wants to build an 18-foot-wide water pipeline from the Mississippi River to a hill south of Denver and bring in enough water for millions more people. But it’s no joke. Some state lawmakers are intrigued by the idea. “Why go to the Mississippi? Because that’s where the water is,” Hausler told the Legislature’s agriculture committees Wednesday. Hausler has a lot of water in mind – 1 million acre-feet a year, about twice the annual flow of the Dolores River at the Utah border. He has been working on his plan for eight years, but in the last six months or so, people have started listening…

“When I started out, people laughed in my face a lot. That doesn’t happen near as much now,” Hausler said. No one was laughing Wednesday morning when Hausler made his pitch to legislators.

“I think we have to look at everything at this point,” said Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. As chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee, Curry is one of the most influential lawmakers when it comes to water. Her Senate counterpart, Hesperus Democrat Jim Isgar, also thinks Hausler is on to something. “I actually started raising this a few years ago myself when we were talking about pump-backs from the Western Slope,” Isgar said. Physically, it would be easier to pump Mississippi water west across the gently sloping plains than east from Western Slope water through the Rocky Mountains, Isgar said. “I really think it’s something worth looking at,” Isgar said.

Hausler’s pipeline would provide enough water for 1 million to 2 million households if it were used exclusively by cities. 30-year projectHis numbers are staggering: a 1,200-mile-long system with a 7,000-foot vertical lift; numerous reservoirs and canals; an 18-foot-diameter pipeline; and the equivalent of three new power plants to run the pumps. Hausler thinks it would take 30 years to permit and build, and he admits it wouldn’t do anything to solve short-term water troubles. He envisions a Central Plains Compact among Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri to set the legal framework for the project.

Water law works differently on the Mississippi, Hausler said Wednesday. It’s based not on Colorado’s prior appropriation system, but on the Law of Riparian Rights. Basically, he said, anyone is allowed to take water out of the Mississippi as long as people downstream can’t prove injury.

Hausler’s idea is hardly new. He got the idea, he said, from Exxon engineers in the 1980s, who proposed diverting the Missouri River to Western Colorado for oil-shale production. Hausler doesn’t envision using his pipeline for oil shale, he said. However, the Department of Energy’s 2004 Oil Shale Development Roadmap discusses the possible need to import water to Western Colorado to run a future shale industry. Despite the massive engineering required, Hausler thinks the project could be built with no federal funding because urban water customers would pick up the bill, he said. He predicted a cost of $22,500 per acre-foot.

That’s in line with the cost of new water-storage projects on the Front Range today, said Chips Berry, head of the Denver Water Department. But Berry hasn’t seen a formal analysis of Hausler’s idea, so he’s not sure if the $22,500 cost takes into account everything involved. In particular, water treatment costs would be high because there’s a significant difference between Colorado’s high-altitude, snow-fed rivers and the Mississippi meandering through fertilizer-laden farm country.

Nevada eyes Mississippi, tooBerry has heard similar ideas before, including from Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

He respects Mulroy as one of the nation’s best minds on water. While she’s never made a formal proposal, she has, at times, approached Berry and said:”Have I got a deal for you. I’m going to bring you all the Mississippi River water you need, and you’re going to give me your Colorado River water,” Berry said. “The answer is, ‘The hell I am.'”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

9 thoughts on “Pipeline from the Mississippi River to eastern Colorado?

  1. I don’t think any Minnesotans are too keen on your idea to take water from the Great Ole Miss. They are avid boaters and fishermen and women who will stoticly stand by “their water.”

    I live in COlorado now and understand the water issues , however, I don’t see the need to send water to Wyoming either. We are leaving because of the tight water restrictions on acreag exp; less than 35 acres, meanwhile city homeowners run their sprinklers 3 times a day. The water used to grow your lawn is not returned to the water system. so, therefore, I would consider you back-off on your water pipeline idea. thanks Margie Franzen

    1. Margie,

      Thanks for commenting. It’s not my pipeline idea. It’s being pitched by hay farmer Gary Hausler who lives up in Gunnison County. I report, you decide. 🙂

      John Orr

  2. I like the idea of creating a huge lake in colorado from the Mississippi rivers. This would create jobs here in the US, create a national reserve of water (needed in that area), mitigate flooding along the river and at the mouth in New Orleans. It could be a huge lake with lake front homes and many more money generating ideas. I thought of this idea back in 2005.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I don’t think anyone is advocating a huge lake in Colorado. The pumping costs for this project would be huge but perhaps solar or wind could be tapped for most of the power needed. I’m becoming skeptical of engineering solutions and water.

      John Orr

      1. Too much water in St. Louis and Nuclear Power plants needed to power the water required to get the siphon going on and over the mountains to dry South-West and drought stricken California. And by the time you get water to drought stricken Texas only a few years ago a hurricane would hit. Another problem is that you’ll have to clean the water and Universities can research the chemicals and trace them down to the manufacturers that are dumping them into the Mississippi. Around St. Louis they have more than enough water with the 3 rivers coming together there and frequent flooding. Would cost trillions of dollars on sending water and cleaning it to the South West, but then we spent trillions of dollars in Iraq and Gulf War I & II…. just for military presence in the middle east oil producing countries. A lot of people have been thinking about it. In China they built 100 feet high tunnels through mountains to divert water needed for manufacturing, so if there is a will, there is a way. Time will tell. They used to say electricity was penny cheap, so do not be afraid to use it. In Minneapolis here water is about a penny a gallon, but our aquifers are contaminated by not only farmer’s fertilizer chemicals, but also salt run off from salting the roads in the winter time. And then in St. Paul they have contaminated aquifers from 3M…. So not sure that the people with depleting aquifers in the prairies want these chemicals?

  3. Just doing some rough math here. An acre is one chain by one furlong, 66X660ft, so an acre foot would be 43,560ft^3. There’s about 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot, so an acre/ft of water has 326,700 gallons of water. A gallon weighs 8lbs, the world around, so an acre/ft of water weighs about 2,613,600 lbs.

    There are 31.5 million seconds in a year, and the goal is to pump 1 million acre feet per year. So the system would have to pump 1/31.5 acre/ft per second, which is 82,971lbs/s.

    I assume Gunnison is about 5,000 ft above the Mississippi river. So pumping to this altitude would require 414,857,143 lbs/ft/s. 1 horsepower can lift 550 lbs, 1ft in 1 second. So a 754,285 hp pump is required to operate continuously to lift 1 million acre feet to an elevation of 5,000 ft. 1hp is 750 watts, so another way to express the energy required would be 565,714, 285 Watts.

    It costs about $7/watt to install either wind or nuclear power. Nuclear has a capacity of about 70%, while wind is about 30% at the best locations.


  4. I’m not a water expert, but I’m wondering how impractical it really is to do this. Considering that, from what I understand, we regularly pump water up from deep wells to supply municipal water from the Denver Basin Aquifer thousands of feet down, if there were several reservoirs along the pipeline path from the mississippi to the west, the elevation at each ‘leg’ wouldn’t be unheard of, and the source more renewable. If there exists such a beast as municipal scale wind water pumps (not electric windmills) to pull massive quantities into reservoirs stretching across the plains, the long-term costs could be minimized. After the initial expense, the multiple generations-long benefit to the entire western US could be completely unprecidented.

    While it seems at first glance like this is a way to avoid conserving water for the arid western states; if you step back, this is a national water conservation measure – to divert excess rainwater from the saturated midwest, reduce flooding along the mississippi, and more efficiently manage the renewable water resources across the nation.

    It seems the Federal government could find lots of reasons to do this project through a significant number of agencies if given a little thought. I’m just learning about the Ogallala aquifer, but that alone seems to be a major national problem that this might take a step toward mitigating.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head — pumping costs would be huge. Paying off the capital construction costs while paying the operating costs might make the water too expensive for consumers, especially when weighed against more farm dry ups and conservation.

      Those of us that like technology problems though..what fun to see it built.

      Thanks for commenting.

      John Orr

  5. Use of existing nuclear power plants along Mississippi River pumping water west can benefit in the future hundreds of millions of homes, farms, shale oil. Missouri River & Ohio Rivers meeting in St. Louis is really an overload. Aquifers are expected to go dry in 2020 from Montana to Texas. I lived in Albuquerque for 4 years and knew Intel@ in Rio Rancho, NM had the water rights so no other industries can move in, only call centers such as Victoria Secrets, Sprint, etc. Yes, I’m aware it isn’t cost effective, but if we can spend 5 trillion dollars in Iraq, I think we can make good use of the S.W. USA. The reservoir on Native American lands north of Rio Rancho, NM was emptied because that is not what it was like when their ancestors lived along the creek there centuries ago, so there may still be opposition. Planning centuries ahead, however, we need to think of not letting the Dakotas, and the rest of the prairies become a dust bowl again. The change from dessert in the S.W. & N.Africa might have an impact on our climate changes too. Remember people go through 3 stages when it comes to change: 1.) resistance, 2.) numbness, 3.) acceptance. Granted, I wouldn’t want to drink the water coming out of the Mississippi, so the land could filter it, they might not even have to add fertilizer and the aquifers would be replenished. Albuquerque used to be an ocean floor and they have salt water aquifers beneath them too. One in Santa Fe bought a desalination unit only to be turned down from being able to use it. When I lived in Santa Barbara and I suggested desalination they laughed, said it would be too expensive. Then a few years later they got 3 desalination units. Fire is going to destroy and turn the S.W. into a desert. N. Africa used to be a tropical forest and the same can be done there, pumping more water. They already irrigate much of Egypt and Israel, but fail to irrigate for the other countries. Greed is our enemy, or can be our friend. A cooler climate might slow the hurricanes. Land has been fought over and over all through out history. With the ability to irrigate, we can expand our ability to locate and greatly increase our living standards for an increasing population. For the price of one B1 bomber we can build a pipeline. For the price of one war in Iraq we can build a planet full of pipelines!

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