There are a lot of solutions to #drought. Some may work better than others — #Wyoming Public Media

Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

From Wyoming Public Media (Ivy Engel):

Drought isn’t a new thing in the West, but right now, much of the region is gripped in a historic drought. An unusually dry year coupled with record-breaking heat waves has strained water resources in the West this year. In fact, water levels are so low that the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage on the Colorado River basin for the first time ever in mid-August. There are a lot of ideas for how to relieve the drought and ease its impacts—some more feasible than others. But when you think about water in the West, you have to think about scarcity too.

“You’re really thinking about, well, why is it scarce? Is it too little supply? Or is it too much demand? And in the case of water, it’s both, right?” said Jason Shogren, an economist at the University of Wyoming (UW). “You have a drought, and that is going to restrict the supply of water. And you have an increase in demand because people are moving more and more to the Rocky Mountain region, moving more and more to the west coast.”

And as Shogren pointed out, a lot of people move to the West and expect to keep parts of their lifestyles from where they came from, like lawns of lush green grass. But those require a lot of water. And Shogren said we have to think about all the different demands.

“And since we have a lot of demand for water in Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas. We have a lot of demand for water in agriculture production, whether it’s crops, or whether it’s nuts, or whether it’s wine,” he said. “And on the supply side, the question is, ‘Who gets what water? And why?'”

He added property rights over water are different by state and deciding how water rights are allocated and how they can be used gets tricky fast…

And with climate change intensifying extreme weather like droughts and flooding, there’s one potential solution that would help solve both problems. Dr. Tom Minckley said it involves moving water.

Missouri River Reuse Project via The New York Times

“We could say, ‘Oh, well, the western states are in drought. So we could take water from, say, the Mississippi or the Missouri River, and when it floods, we could capture that floodwater, and then basically return it to the head of the watershed,'” he said.

Dr. Minckley is a Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming. He studies water in the West and how it’s managed. He said piping water from a flooded place to a place in drought is an idea that’s becoming much more popular. State governments already transfer water between some states in the west…

But because of Wyoming’s high elevation, moving water here from almost anywhere else would mean fighting gravity. It would require a lot of energy because water is actually quite heavy. Not to mention the logistics of where a pipeline would even go and how much it would cost – water is valued by the acre-foot.

“On average, it’s about $2,000 per acre-foot. And some of the Colorado River water in the state of Colorado is running for $85,000 an acre-foot. So, like, there’s these crazy, really big numbers out there,” said Minckley. “And the question is if we start moving water from where it is to where we want it to be, how do we pay for it?”

Graphic credit: USBR Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study

The idea has been researched and despite its growing popularity, the Bureau of Reclamation found its implementation highly unlikely because of the cost and logistics.

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

Another idea that’s been floated is cloud seeding…

[Bart] Geerts said farming communities in the High Plains have financially supported seeding operations in thunderstorms for decades, but it can be really hard to prove that kind of seeding actually worked. But, he said it is a lot easier to demonstrate that it worked when they seed winter clouds. Which can be more useful in the High Plains anyway.

Because there’s natural variability between the years, you can’t pinpoint exactly how much more snowfall there was due to seeding and they work with averages. Geerts said a common belief is that cloud seeding keeps moisture from falling in other places where it’s needed.

“It’s really not understood. There is that possibility but in general, these wintertime clouds are not very efficient,” he said. “Essentially water vapor condenses, you extract it, make it into snow, and thereby you reduce the downstream amount of water vapor to some extent. But that amount is so, so small, so insignificant compared to the total water vapor content.”

But Geerts added on the flip side of that, some of the seeding materials may float downwind and increase snowfall on the next mountain range.

“So it can work either way. We don’t really have an answer,” he said.

It seems like a lot of ideas and conversations about this topic end with that – “we don’t really have an answer.” But as droughts intensify, driven by climate change, those conversations continue to happen. And some may lead to more viable solutions.

10 thoughts on “There are a lot of solutions to #drought. Some may work better than others — #Wyoming Public Media

  1. All of these scenarios imply that the states where the Missouri flows thru would allow this. Not likely. I would suggest we stop wasting water on almond crops and other wasteful endeavours of growing things in the desert where they should not be grown. And limiting population growth in areas with no water to begin with!

    1. Jeff,
      Conservation is a huge part of solving the problem, you’re correct. I’m pretty sure that the federal government could get the rights of way to build the pipeline, just look at what oil companies can do as private entities. Any location along the Missouri (or Mississippi) would be subject to riparian water law not prior appropriation. How would you limit population growth? In Colorado much of our population gain is from folks that are already here having families.

      Thanks for commenting.

      John Orr

  2. I think you underestimate the controversy this could become. The west will not conserve as much as it needs to, and it’s not Colorado I am concerned about. People are moving to Arizona and arid areas of the west in places where they should not allow development. The west will suck the rest of the country dry if we allow them to. First it will only be during floods..then all of the time.

  3. Jeff,
    Maybe i’m underestimating — do you mean about the pipeline from the Missouri of Mississippi?

    Development is one piece of the puzzle, how would you limit folks already there from having families? That drives a lot of the growth.

    Thanks for commenting.

    John Orr

    1. A pipeline from either the Missouri, Mississippi, or great lakes is a bad idea. People from the west think the midwest is constantly besieged by flooding, but that is not the case. There are many times we have drought too.

      I dont want to restrict people from growing their families, but allowing new homes and having many more people relocate to desert areas where there obviously is no water is idiotic and sets up these scenarios that water must be found from somewhere to support people who shouldn’t have moved there in the first place.

      1. Jeff,
        I agree that a pipeline from east of the hundredth meridian would have many consequences some of which we wouldn’t know about until design and construction started. I don’t know anyone that thinks the midwest is constantly besieged by flooding, but we can read the streamgages and abundant water flows down the Mississippi most years. I am not an advocate for the pipeline idea, I just report on the various projects floated.

        The West is the fastest growing area of the country. Folks move here for the outdoor experience and jobs. Folks that are already here have families. That is the reality we are dealing with. (I live in Denver and work for a municipal water provider.) It may be “idiotic” but what can be done? … and who has the authority to implement your plan? Some communities are not allowing new development in the West. In my area along the Front Range in Colorado developers are sometimes required to bring water to the table from Colorado’s active water market. Also, many counties and municipalities are now grudgingly combining land use and water supply planning, but it is slow. And, some planners are still of the opinion that stationarity (the past predicts the future) is still reliable.

        Thanks for commenting.

        John Orr

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful response. Hopefully we can figure out a rational way that water should be used and distributed.

      1. Using federal highway interstate property is one way in laying a pipeline. Interstate I-80 goes from Illinois to California with other branches of interstate to use

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