Running out of Water

ACORN Economics Politicians

New Orleans      Under the byline in a recent article about water shortages in Kansas and other states, it mentioned that the reporter was filing from Garden City.  We’d driven through the town, moving back and forth across the west.  Once upon a time, nothing would have been written about or from Garden City that didn’t mention that it was the birthplace of Bob Dole, former US Senator from the state and unsuccessful candidate for president on the Republican ticket.  Garden City rang another bell for me in the small world category, because Local 100 used to represent weather observers there under a contract with the FAA at the small airport.  We had a famous grievance that a member wanted us to file there after he was fired when airport authorities discovered him involved in a sexual experience with a colleague on the desk of the weather office late one night.

`           The other signpost on memory lane provoked by this story of the impending crisis of depleting the giant Ogallala Aquifer, running from Nebraska to Texas and impacting Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and a piece of South Dakota, recalled ACORN and Local 100’s fight decades ago to prevent the privatization of water in New Orleans, which we beat back by one vote.  We cited a bunch of reasons why it was a terrible idea for consumers and citizens to turn a public utility over to private companies from France and the United Kingdom, but one specter we raised was whether they might try to sell water from the Mississippi River to the arid western states.  It wasn’t our strongest argument, because no one took it all that seriously at the time, and we won without succeeding in making that case.

Fast forward twenty years and darned if the Arizona state legislature in 2021 didn’t ask Congress to study a plan to transport Mississippi River floodwaters to the Colorado River which seven western states are drinking dry what the drought doesn’t take first.  Now, Kansas wants to revive a plan first examined in 1982 to built a pipeline from the Missouri River across the state to southwestern farms, feed lots, and the like.  The sticker price forty years ago was $5 to $20 billion, back, when a billion dollars was a big thing.  Now, the price tag doesn’t pose as many obstacles as legal and permitting issues would entail in building a water pipeline that distance.  Many experts argue that by the time the pipeline was built, the aquifer would already be drained, so why bother.  It actually seems a similar argument could be made about some of the proposed oil and gas pipelines as well, but that’s another story for some fine day.

What’s to do be done?  Will these super-mega water pipeline projects suddenly become financially feasible 20 or 30 years from now as the water crisis competes with other climate-driven crises?  Will states divide on wet or dry lines, like they are now on red or blue, based on protecting their access to water versus wanting more water?  Will the hundred-year project of irrigating the desert areas of the West for crop production better suited to other areas finally be abandoned?

The only answer certain, as we peer into the crystal ball, is that eventually public and economic policy is going to have aligned with the facts on the ground, and in this case, running or not running underneath the soil.