I’ve long dismissed the “pipeline to the Missouri River” (PTM? “canal from the Missouri”? CFM?) and other similar large-scale water importation schemes as vastly impractical distractions from serious water policy (see for example here and here).
The argument, which I get regularly from well-meaning readers, points to the big network of oil and gas pipelines spidering across the United States and asks, Why can’t we do the same thing with water? We’ve had all this flooding in Region X, and we’re so dry here in Region Y. Why can’t we just move it from there to here? Whenever these suggestions come up, my water nerd friends roll their eyes and make jokes about NAWAPA. But what if that’s just all self-referential groupthink?
Two things I read this week got me thinking about a more general problem – the risk of groupthink from the water policy “in crowd”. The first was this from OtPR about the usual suspects at a California water conference saying the usual things:
The range of public water discourse is very narrow; it is all incremental change from how we do things now.
Core actors often have high levels of network closure (transitivity), which can lead to redundant ideas and group think. Periphery actors might be less subject to redundant ideas, and they could be engaging in lots of policy or other types of experiments that would be beneficial for the entire system.
The math behind my answer to well-meaning PTM advocates involves the scale of the water-versus gasoline problem. Let’s say I use a tank of gasoline a week. That’s a little more than a gallon a day. A pipeline network, combined with tanker trucks and stuff, has been sufficient to meet that need. But water, in human-usable quantities, is really big and heavy. The average Albuquerque residents uses 134 gallons of water per day. A pipeline etc. network sufficient to meet that need would have to be two orders of magnitude larger than the system that brings gasoline to my town.
This seems to be a pretty straightforward argument, and I’m off to thinking about resilience theory and collaborative social networks and the role of markets and the other subjects permitted in the polite water policy circles at the sort of high-brown conferences I attend, or the bars I frequent. But what if we’re all doing this wrong?
The Central Arizona Project brings human-usable quantities of water uphill from Lake Havasu to Phoenix at least an order of magnitude larger than the Alaska pipeline bringing oil down from the north slope. The Chinese are doing stuff that makes NAWAPA look like child’s play.
What do you think, Inkstain readers? Should a pipeline from the Missouri or large-scale water augmentation of some sort like it be part of polite water policy discourse?