As droughts force local communities to find alternative solutions to water shortages, Arizonans could turn to importing flood water in the future.
An interstate pipeline would be a lengthy project in terms of time and effort that in a race against time isn’t an immediate answer, rather a commitment that would test the resolve of the state Legislature and Arizonans.
As conversations in the Legislature continue to move forward regarding water, it’s clear more needs to be hammered out.
Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, described the atmosphere when addressing water shortage resolutions.
“Pretty contentious, for the most part,” said Cobb. “We all know that we need more water in Arizona; it’s just how to get it here.”
Currently 54.2% of Arizona is in severe drought and an additional 16.5% of the state is in extreme drought, according to drought.gov.
Farmers, who used 72% of Arizona’s water supply for agricultural purposes in 2019, are among the most affected by intense droughts, with over 26 million acres of farmland in jeopardy or just over one-third of the state’s total acreage.
In 2019, importing water was removed from further consideration in the Long-Term Water Augmentation Options for Arizona report due to legal constraints, actual water availability, and extremely high costs.
There’s still talk of importing water, but the question remains whether it’s a viable solution.
The answer is: it’s complicated, as past concerns still remain, as well as the longevity of a high- stakes project being completed.
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, equates the idea to one of America’s greatest achievements.
“I think the idea is a great concept, like putting a person on the moon,” said Cook, underscoring the amount of hard work and scientific knowledge needed.
Determining the amount of water needed for a pipeline to work is critical in Cook’s opinion.
“We need the experts to say how much water, is it feasible and cost effective that we would need to move,” said Cook.
The cost of a new pipeline and one that would cross multiple states is likely to surpass that of the Central Arizona Project pipeline, which finished construction 28 years ago.
For comparison, the Central Arizona Project cost more than $4 billion and covers 338 miles from the Colorado River at Lake Havasu City to Tucson. Attached to that pipeline is a $1.646 billion plus interest repayment obligation, that ends in 2045. As of last January, 40% of the principal ($656 million) has been repaid.
Cook also touched on another challenging aspect of the idea.
“A pipeline of that magnitude would have to have the right group of stakeholders,” said Cook.
Other Western states facing drought-related issues could aid Arizona in importing flood water by banding together to support such a project.
Cobb could see this expediating the process.
“That would probably streamline it,” she said.
However, Cobb noted that while the idea is enticing, states must show a serious commitment.
“It depends on who comes to the table,” Cobb added. “You just can’t want to come to the table, but you got to have your investment, too.”
The laborious process of building a pipeline across multiple states does have its own set of legal challenges that could provide significant setbacks.
Michael Pearce, the former chief counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, provided his insight to potential obstacles.
“I would think that a compact amongst the states to allow for the movement of water from one state to another would probably be the most appropriate vehicle to do some kind of transcontinental diversion,” said Pearce.
Pearce explained how a compact would work.
“You’d be talking about several states getting together; agreeing on a concept; reducing it to writing; presenting it for the approval of various states; but still having to seek congressional approval,” said Pearce.
Congressional approval wouldn’t come right away either.
“I think it would be a very delicate process,” said Pearce. “And so, I would anticipate it would take at least a few years to get a contract written and certainly to get it approved by Congress.”
Pearce noted his concerns about bringing Missouri or Mississippi river water to Arizona.
“I think there are two concerns,” said Pearce. “And they’re kind of related with Missouri and Mississippi river water.”
The first being the makeup of the water.
“They’re both very muddy,” said Pearce. “They have a lot of suspended solids in them and so diverting the water out in muddy form and then trying to pump it creates practical engineering problems on keeping the pumps clean and operating.”
The second has to do with silt coming to the lower basin.
“The introduction of muddy water into the lower basin reservoirs creates the potential for silt,” said Pearce. “And silting in reservoirs is not a good idea; it should be avoided.”
While an interstate pipeline is a large undertaking that should not be the sole determinant of such a project according to Pearce.
“I think it is a very intense project and one that would require a lot of determination and political will to see it through to conclusion,” he said. “But I don’t think that alone is reason to just simply discount it.”
Pearce also acknowledged Arizona’s history with water.
“When it has come to our state’s water resources, trying to solve those problems and protect those interests has traditionally not been a partisan issue,” said Pearce.
Further bipartisan efforts are imperative to an interstate pipeline project.
“It would certainly be very, very, helpful here to have bipartisan support for ideas that will require significant cooperation both from our surrounding states and the federal Congress,” said Pearce.