Importing water from the Missouri River to Colorado's semi-arid Front Range has emerged as an option western states are considering to deal with increasing overuse of the Colorado River.
That diversion is listed as a long-term possibility after review of more than 100 sometimes far-fetched ideas submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Among them: "Towing an iceberg wrapped in some type of plastic to California and capturing the meltwater"; tapping the Mississippi River; and "filling large nylon water bags" in Alaska for distribution down south.
Bureau of Reclamation officials on Tuesday said the "Missouri River Reuse Project" will be evaluated for feasibility following the release in coming weeks of a federal government study on water supply for the West.
"The state of Colorado has not taken a formal position on the pipeline or any of the options," Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman said.
The Missouri diversion described in Bureau of Reclamation documents would require a pipeline across Kansas, with water used to fill surface reservoirs and recharge depleted aquifers along the way to metro Denver.
It would convey 600,000 acre-feet of water a year depending on Midwestern needs. An acre-foot has been regarded as enough water to sustain two families of four for a year.
"Water would likely be stored in Front Range reservoirs such as Rueter-Hess, Carter, Barr and Chatfield," a project summary said. "Colorado may choose to construct new reservoirs or enlarge existing reservoirs for the project."
Some water could also be directed to the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin through pipelines and tunnels when there is great need to relieve drought in the basin, the summary continued.
Beyond political hurdles, such a project would cost billions.
"The idea of constructing conveyances to move water resources between other basins and the Colorado has been raised before and was once again submitted as an idea in this process," Bureau of Reclamation public affairs chief Dan DuBray said in a statement. "Any proposal will be evaluated for feasibility, broad support and realistic funding potential before further consideration would be given."
The options for importing water reflect widening worries about future shortages. The Colorado River Basin, which spans Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, is the source of water for 30 million people.
The government's three-year Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study has found that within 50 years, the annual water deficit will reach 3.5 million acre-feet.
Bureau of Reclamation officials said their primary purpose was to define current and future imbalances in water supply and demand.
They asked stakeholders and agencies across the seven basin states to submit ideas to prevent shortages. States have agreed to consider a Missouri River diversion. Other ideas are destined for an appendix.
Diverting surplus water from the Missouri and Mississippi rivers was floated in 2006 as western states began searching for ways to enable population growth.
Conservation groups dismissed most ideas for importing water as nonsense and called the Missouri project misguided.
"Huge pipelines aren't solutions to the fundamental problem that we are using more water than we can sustain. You can't build more water," said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. "We need to work together on conservation and reuse strategies that can have an immediate positive impact. Even if a pipeline from the Missouri River was the perfect solution, how would we pay for it?"
Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700, twitter.com/finleybruce or email@example.com