The politics-economics interface is what fascinates me about this new idea kicking around to replenish the rapidly draining Ogallala Aquifer by moving water across Kansas from the Missouri River. As Brett Walton explained last month in Circle of Blue, it’s a modest study at this point, with costs split between the state and federal government. But the scale of the thing being considered is of the same order of magnitude size as the big water-movers of the West – the Central Arizona Project and its ilk:
Economics are foremost in Rude’s mind, because the aqueduct would be a whopper of a project — at least double the estimated $US 3.6 billion price tag from three decades ago and comparable in scale to massive water diversions like the 540-kilometer (360-mile) Central Arizona Project that was approved before the Carter administration and which was built mostly with federal money.
And there’s the rub. Because it seems clear that the days of federal funding for big projects like this are long over. There are examples of non-federal projects of this scale. Los Angeles has done it. But that’s for municipal water supplies, for which one can charge a lot more. Brett touches on the scale of the political-economic problem:
Rude acknowledges that the days of deep federal investment are probably over. Farmers, who now pay only for the energy to pump water, and other local users will have to shoulder the cost, and that represents the chief uncertainty for the project. How much will water cost? Will people pay for it? Are there possible cost-sharing partnerships with cities and industries along the route?
Do you think my premise is correct – that the days of this sort of federal project are over? If “yes”, is state and local financing in Kansas a realistic option?