Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

The key to moving water west

The recent article by Ken Ritter, “’Let’s get this done together’: Colorado River action ‘critical’” (Journal, Dec. 17) outlined the challenges facing thirsty western states.

Don SiefkesAlphecca Muttardy

However, if we can’t get new water to the Colorado River, no amount of water cutbacks or other conservation measures, even though exceedingly important, can solve this water problem that New Mexico and the American Southwest face.

Here’s one solution to avoid the looming disaster. The National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) set out in House Resolution 3339 would provide $5 trillion in low-cost loans for a broad range of public infrastructure projects – including massive water systems – without the need for increasing taxes or any deficit budget spending.

This bill is modeled on the successful Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) used by President Roosevelt to build Hoover Dam and bring water and electricity to the Southwest.

The NIB is prepared to invest up to $400 billion to bring new water to the Colorado River and the Southwest. One possibility would be to divert water from the Atchafalaya River in Louisiana through New Mexico up to the Glen Canyon Dam. Properly designed, this diversion could also add water to the New Mexico Strategic Water Reserve. (Snyder, , Dec 18)

In this proposal, no water would be taken from the main channel of the Mississippi. As of December 20, 1.48 million gals/sec of Atchafalaya River water was simply flowing into the Gulf of Mexico without producing electricity or supporting commercial shipping. Taking just 100,000 gals/sec (7%) of this water would fill lakes Powell and Mead to 50% capacity in one year and 9 months. The project would use an existing facility – the Old River Control Complex just south of Vidalia, Louisiana, that currently diverts 30% of the downflow of the Mississippi to prevent flooding in New Orleans.

This undertaking would build a 1,400-mile series of pipelines, open channels, tunnels, and pumping stations (similar to the California, Los Angeles, Colorado River Aqueducts and the Central Arizona Project). It could be built in a year using huge earth moving machines like those employed in the Netherlands for their canal systems.

There is historical precedent for building systems like this project. In less than a year between 1942 and 1943, the RFC financed and built two pipelines of similar length, 1,200 and 1,400 miles, to carry crude oil and gasoline from Texas oil fields to the East Coast. These pipelines rescued the East Coast oil refineries and won World War II for the Allies.

We estimate the cost to be on the order of $14 billion to $23 billion, a small amount for a $5 trillion bank and also small compared to cutting off water supplies to farmers in the Southwest who produce $39 billion worth of our annual food supply.

Without new water in the Colorado, food prices will skyrocket even more than they already have. It is also unthinkable to allow water levels in lakes Mead and Powell to fall to the point where the dams can no longer generate electricity or provide drinking water.

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We don’t think anything about pumping crude oil and gasoline through 190,000 miles of US pipelines from areas that have oil and gasoline to areas that don’t. We certainly can do the same with water.

All US senators and representatives from New Mexico, regardless of party, should get behind HR 3339 and vote for the National Infrastructure Bank.

Alphecca Muttardy is a macroeconomist with the Coalition for a National Infrastructure Bank (NIBCoalition.com) and a 25-year veteran of the International Monetary Fund. Don Siefkes is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained chemical engineer who represents the Coalition for the NIB in San Francisco.

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