Yesterday’s post about recurring suggestion that we build giant water infrastructure was premised in part on this year’s extremely wet year on the Missouri-Mississippi system, the “Why not build a big pipe from there to the desert” argument. As I mention, I hear this idea a lot, but especially this year, when it seems like there’s so much extra water over there that those folks don’t need.
OtPR nailed the problem with this argument in a post yesterday: “If you build for the peak, most of the time you’ll have excess capacity.” The case study at hand in OtPR’s post is a farmer who expanded to take advantage of this year’s extremely wet year, buying a bunch of extra equipment to put 500 marginal acres into production growing tomatoes:
But if Mr. Coburn bought a new tractor and harvester to support his most marginal 500 acres of land, he is so fucking stupid he deserves to lose his farm. Mr. Coburn knows from the past two years that he doesn’t get water for that acreage every year. How many wet years does he need to amortize $2M worth of equipment on 500 acres? Right now he’s burdened those 500 acres with $4,000 per acre worth of machinery, because in the wettest year in recent memory, he got some surplus water?
That argument applies across scales. If you build dams and canals capable of handling the big floods on the Mississippi, saving it and sending it to the arid West, most of the time they won’t be useful, because most of the time they’ll be empty. There are a whole lot of reasons I think the idea is a non-starter. This is one of them.