Piping water to the West

For years, upriver and downriver interests have argued over use of Missouri River water. Now a third option looms that could confound the issue further: diversion of water to parched Western states by way of a pipeline.

As a general proposition, the idea makes sense, allocating the nation's water supply to most advantageous uses. In the Great Flood of 1993, millions of gallons surging beyond the banks of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers could have been relocated to huge storage basins in the West with benefit to both areas. In normal times, when plenty of water fills the Missouri, nobody would object to diversion through a treatment plant and pipeline headed west.

Of course, it's not that simple. The proposed pipeline would cost $11.2 billion and take 30 years to build, but for such a basic improvement in the nation's infrastructure, cost should not be a stopper. Water supply could be the most important natural resource issue in coming years.

An argument would ensue in years when drought plagues upriver and downriver areas, leaving little support for yet another diversion argument, but without benefit of access to historic aqua data, I'm sure most of the time water could successfully be sent from here to there with benefit to both. I mean, why blow up the Bird's Point Levee near New Madrid to let floodwater out of the Mississippi if the water could be sent to Arizona and California instead?

A pipeline sending treated water to the West sounds like a good idea, but don't count on hearing the pumps anytime soon. The more desperate the situation becomes out West, the more serious the discussion will become.