One Strategy that Could Fill Lake Powell Without Draining the Mississippi River

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Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River on the border of Utah and Arizona. It is the second largest reservoir in the United States. With the Glen Canyon Dam, it provides hydroelectric power and water to millions of people. Two million people visit the lake each year for recreational purposes. But Lake Powell is drying up. Since 2000, the southwestern United States has suffered from severe drought.

The water level of Lake Powell has dropped 62%, leaving the lake only 38% full. If the water level drops below 3,490 feet, the Glen Canyon Dam will no longer be able to generate electricity. It’s currently at just 3,581 feet. Obviously, if we don’t find a way to fill Lake Powell, it is only a matter of time before the lake evaporates to unsustainable levels.

Some have suggested drastic solutions, such as pumping water across the Rocky Mountains from the Mississippi River. This solution will be very expensive, harmful to the environment and will take many years to implement. However, there is a solution to filling Lake Powell without pumping water from Mississippi. This is something that can be done in the state of Colorado at a fraction of the cost. But that might just move the problem from one area to another. Read on to find out what that possible solution is and see if you think it’s the best option.

The Southwest Water Problem

Southwest Water Crisis is not is a new problem. Judging from evidence from tree rings and geological records, California has experienced severe drought for at least 1,000 years. Possibly related to climate change, the drought in recent years is one of the worst the region has experienced in the last 500 years. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two largest reservoirs in the United States. Both are located on the Colorado River and both are only about a third of their capacity.

If this situation continues, they could be depleted to the point where their dams are no longer able to produce. water, electricity or provide enough electricity and water to the area. This will have national and international implications. If agriculture and livestock are disrupted in the Southwest, food prices could rise worldwide. People will begin to migrate from one area of ​​the country to another, putting pressure on infrastructure and increasing the cost of living in the places they move to.

A Radical Solution

Due to the severity of the pandemic crisis, some have begun to propose radical solutions. One is to divert water from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River. Mississippi discharges 4.5 million gallons of water per second into the Gulf of Mexico. This amount of water is more than enough to replenish Colorado and its reservoirs.

How can we achieve such a feat? A series of aqueducts, reservoirs, and major pipelines would have to be built to move water thousands of miles up the Mississippi River to the continental boundary in the Rocky Mountains. From there, it descends into the Colorado River. To achieve its goals, this project will require either a pipe 88 feet in diameter or a channel 100 feet wide and 61 feet deep.

Pipeline Problems

Building this water pipeline doesn’t involve any radically new technology. Our engineers know how to do it. So, problem solved, right? Not quite. Here are some of the formidable obstacles to achieving this feat of geoengineering:

  • Cost: The project is likely to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • Politics: It requires the cooperation of states in different parts of the country with different political leanings. Each side will seek its own advantage and bargain hard. It would be costly, lead to protracted court battles, and cause a stir.
  • Timeframe: It would take decades to build. It cannot be planned, approved, and built fast enough to address the immediate water needs of the southwestern states.
  • Ecology: Water diversion can introduce pollutants into the circulation. Colorado River region from Mississippi. This could lead to flooding of marsh ecosystems in parts of the Louisiana Plain due to backwash of seawater as freshwater supplies decrease.
  • Invasive species: Project may inadvertently shift troublesome invasive species from the Mississippi into the Colorado River. Examples include zebra mussels, tilefish, crayfish, Asian carp and snails. This could affect commercial river traffic and infrastructure built with higher water levels in mind.
  • Security: It would be difficult to protect the entire length of the pipeline from damage. Potential sabotage or act of war could disrupt water supplies to densely populated and economically important southwestern states.

Colorado’s Water Resources


Precipitation in the State of Colorado falls mainly in the form of mountain snow. It generates an average of 13.7 million acres of water flow in streams and rivers across the state. Less than 40% of that – 5.3 million acres – is consumed in the state. The rest were allowed to travel down the Colorado River to other states under an interstate water-sharing treaty. Colorado gets 83% of its water from rivers, lakes, and other surface waters and 17% from groundwater.

Water Usage

To date, most of Colorado’s water is used for agriculture. That’s 4.7 acres of water each year of the 5.3 million acres consumed by the state. This represents 89% of the state’s water used for agriculture each year. Despite the state’s efforts to implement water-saving measures, Colorado’s agricultural water use exceeds the national average.

Overall, agricultural water use in the United States has declined steadily since 2003, while in Colorado it has remained at about the same level for 20 years. year. This is a complex problem that defies easy answers. But it begs the question: “How can we improve water conservation on farms in Colorado?”

Water Diversion

When we talk about the plan planned to divert the Mississippi water to save the Colorado River, it was Colorado that diverted much of the water the other way. Here’s why. The Front Range is a tributary of the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. Most of the precipitation moving in the direction of the prevailing westerly winds falls on the western slopes of the mountain range. However, 80% of the state’s residents live east in major cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and others.

To solve this problem, Colorado built 24 roads large tunnels to channel water through the mountains for the use of its cities, industry and agriculture in the east. Two of the tunnels – the Boustead Tunnel and the Twin Lakes Tunnel – divert up to 40% of the water from two tributaries of the Colorado River during the dry season.

Denver receives 50% of the water from the diversion. water, and Colorado Springs gets up to 70% that way. In total, Colorado diverts about 1,304,000 acres of water annually to the eastern side of the mountain range, preventing the water from entering the Colorado River. Demand for these resources will increase in the future as the state’s population is expected to double to 8.5-10 million by 2050

A Controversial Fix

So, how to fill Lake Powell without draining the Mississippi River? This is the scenario we need to think about even if this redirection plan is passed. The approval process has to go through multiple levels and authorities of the government. Allocating funds will have to be through a political process.

Building the necessary aqueducts, pipelines, reservoirs and pumping facilities could take decades. So even though the Mississippi plan is a planned solution of last resort, a temporary solution must be found – the solution will probably be the best we can do in a no-question situation. easy answer.

What if we decided to allow nature to do what comes naturally? What if Continental Divide works again? Rainfall falling west of the mountain range would be allowed to flow westward to the Colorado River. That would free up 1.3 million acres of water that Colorado is currently pumping eastward. What impact would that have?

The Impact of Releasing Colorado Water

The total storage capacity of Lake Powell is approximately 25 million acres. It is currently down about 15.5 million acres from its full capacity. Increasing Colorado’s flow by a million acres or more would help fill Lake Powell, although it could still take a decade to do so. But filling the lake may not be necessary. The most important thing is to keep the water level above 3,490 feet so that the Glen Canyon Dam can continue to provide electricity. It’s currently at just 3,581 feet. This would be fairly manageable if the water diverted from the Colorado were to be released.

Problems and Rationale

Clearly the plan to replenish the Colorado River to The addition to Lake Powell poses major challenges, especially for those that may anger Colorado residents. They could easily claim that now we’re just transferring the drought to them from other states. The political storm will be huge (and there won’t be enough water to quell it). Colorado should take even more stringent water conservation measures.

May need to consider opportunities for its own water diversion projects in the East. Neighboring agricultural states like Nebraska and Kansas may be reluctant to share some of the water they need for their crops. It is hard to imagine the Colorado government approving such a plan without coercion in the national interest.

On the other hand, one could argue that the water problem is in the West. Much worse than it should be because the water-hungry eastern regions take up much of the water that nature has for the southwest. Thus, in a world without human intervention, droughts could occur in both the Southwest and eastern areas of the Front Range, but with little difference in the amount of water available downstream and upstream. Eastern Colorado may need to rethink land and water uses to account for the amount of water that is naturally available on their mountainside.

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