CA drought -- aqueducts?

So California has a record drought, while other parts of the US are getting record rains.

Does it make sense to build an aqueduct? Say, from parts of the US that historically get large rainfalls, bring the water to, perhaps, the Colorado River, let it percolate down from there?

I understand it would take a massive amount of water to make a difference, but if the water was continually flowing, wouldn’t it help over time?

I’m sure it’d be a massive economic investment, and I’m not sure where the best source(s) would be or what the effect would be in source area(s), which is why I’m posting here. Would love some thoughts from people who understand this far better than I do.

Biggest problem is energy, for pumping stations.

Another problem is loss due to evaporation. Pipelines might work better, for both reasons, but it would still take a ton of energy.

And, sure as anything, the minute the system is complete, we’ll have the wettest rainy season in 200 years and everyone will be mad that we wasted the money. The laws of irony are inescapable!

So no way to build a pipeline that won’t lose water due to evaporation? Or to trap the evaporated water and keep it flowing downstream?

Biggest problem: Many states already anticipated that other states would request, offer to purchase or demand a share of their water and they have implemented legislation to prevent this from occurring. The Great Lake states for example have strict legislation prohibiting the export of water from the Lakes to any other region.

At this point, California has pretty mud three options:

[li]End its artificial agricultural industry and look at ways to lower its population to manageable - The least likely option as it would require hard and unpopular decisions to be made in a state where restricting personal freedoms is easier than creating long-term and viable solutions for its problems.[/li][li]Investing tens of billions of dollars in desalinations plants and the energy infrastructure to run them - This only slightly more likely than #1 as to run massive desalination operations would require the construction of at least a dozen or more nuclear facilities in state which hasn’t constructed such a facility in over 30 years[/li][li]Open negotiations with Canada and states north of it to build massive water pipelines and transfer stations to pump groundwater and divert river water into the state - This seems to be the most likely as it doesn’t require the loss of the agricultural fantasy, the relocation of millions of peopel (and thus a loss of political power) or the mmassive construction of power plants in state (and the environmental headaches which will come from that)[/li][/ol]

Basically, California is screwed pretty rudely and the situation isn’t going to get better on its own. In fact, given the state’s historical inability to do anything quickly, things are going to grow far worse before any effort is made to alleviate them.

All of the places in California where there can be aqueducts, there are aqueducts.

One thing people keep overlooking. Duluth, Minnesota, at the western tip of Lake Superior, is 702 feet above sea level. Chicago, at the southern tip of Lake Michigan is 597 feet above sea level. Logically, those would be the two places you’d tap your water from the Midwest.

Grand Junction, Colorado, where the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers meet, is 4,593 feet above sea level. Henderson, Nevada, at Lake Mead, is 1,330 feet above sea level.

Not only would you have to pump huge amounts of water to make any difference (the Missouri River is currently flowing past Kansas City at 33,000 cubic feet per second, and it’s a low, slow period) you’d have to pump it uphill. Between the energy costs and the amount lost by evaporation, it would be an environmental and economic failure.

Most of southern CA’s water is already being brought in via aqueduct from places including the Colorado river. So yes it makes sense, that’s why it has already been done. Overall the limitations on bringing more water to CA are economic. A smaller aspect is environmental.

Try reading up a little bit at this site it gives a pretty good overview of southern CA’s water supply.

California already has aqueducts to move water around within the state. But yeah, when you need to start pulling water from further away, it gets a lot more expensive (and you have to convince the people who have the water to let you take some of it).

There’s quite a bit of water readily available just west of California.


Just ran across this Atlantic article today - a very good overview of the history of water in California. (Remember, whiskey is for drinking, water for fighting over.)

Great info, thank you everyone!

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

the Great Lakes water can’t be removed due to a treaty with Canada.

What record rain are we talking about?

There is a lot of talk about building desalinization plants, but those ain’t cheap. I believe there is one in the works near Monterey (if it isn’t hung up currently for some reason).

Also, to bring in water from the east, you’d have to get it over the Sierra(s). Not sure what the lowest point is, but it’s probably about 5,000 ft.

Just for a point of reference: to pump 33 kcf of water per second from 702 feet to 4593 feet requires about 10,800 megawatts of power. That’s not even considering frictional losses. That kind of power would cost about 30 million dollars per day ($11B/yr), which in turn disregards construction/maintenance costs for the pipeline/pumps.

Back of napkin calc - desalination is a lot cheaper.

Actually, we have an example for this: Libya’s Great Man-Made River Project, which delivered non-renewable fossil water reserves from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System to the near-coastal areas in the north. The program cost upwards of US$25B, delivered an estmated less than 10% of source water to the end user (the rest was lost due to leakage and evaporation), and was so startegically vulernable that it was significantly damaged in the 2011 NATO bombings along with the essentially complete destruction of one of the two plants that produces the concrete pipe.

And all of this is to move water from one end to another of a nation roughly the size of Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico combined. Moving water from, say, Minnesota to California would be a rough order of magnitude more difficult even before considering the need to summit the Rocky Mountain Range and (for the agricultural San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys) over the Sierra Nevada Range.

When the World Bank warns that wars of the 21st Century “will be fought over [fresh potable or irrigable] water” this is what they are talking about. A wealthy nation such as the United States can afford, albeit at great expense, to relocate agriculture sectors and use other water resources (though the amount of avaiable water and suitable agricultural land that is readily irrigable for produce is declining at a distressing and unsustainable rate) but for nations such as Pakistan and India, the water is lifeblood for agriculture and industrial production. All of those people who poo-poo the notion of “fighting over water” because they assume it to be a common resource that flows readily from the tap are going to be facing the reality of the tragedy of the commons.


This comes with the assumption that desalination is a stopgap solution of indefinite scale and minimal ecological impact. The reality is that desalinatization comes with its own limits of scaling, accessibility, pollution, and logistics. It’s not a magic wand that makes problems go away.


No, but building the pipelines with the enormous pumping stations, and removing that much water from wherever comes with its own limits of scaling, pollution and logistics. Wouldn’t you say? And energy used is energy used - if you use a lot more energy to pump water from far away than you use to desalinate right here, then you definitely save on the energy production problems - pollution, transmission, etc.

Yes, there is the brine problem but you know what - the ocean is huge and it’s not a little bay like it is with Saudis. Spread it around.