A Bold Fix For The West’s Water Woes

The nation’s Western states are facing severe, and worsening, water shortages. There are both consumption and supply problems, and neither will be easy to fix. However, we have a remedy for the latter.

More water is used in America per capita than almost anywhere else in the world — more than three times as much as in China and 15 times more than in Denmark. Not surprisingly, the highest domestic water use is in the driest Western U.S. states: Arizona residents use 147 gallons per day compared to just 51 gallons in Wisconsin. That’ll come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the heavily irrigated golf courses in places such as Phoenix and Scottsdale.

The situation in California, with its outsized population and recurrent droughts over much of the past decade, is particularly tenuous. The state has received significant amounts of rain during the past few years, but that has not remedied the most serious impact of many years of drought, which has been exacerbated by a growing population and expansive agriculture: namely, a severe deficit of groundwater. For years, farmers in the Central Valley have liberally extracted water from the region’s aquifers to compensate for reduced supplies from canals and aqueducts.

As water levels have dropped, farmers, homeowners, and municipalities have dug deeper and deeper wells, but such measures only prolong the inevitable: The incidence of well failures is increasing.

Most proposed solutions, which have focused on conservation, have been unpalatable, while few have focused on ways to increase supplies. There’s the rub: America does not have a water supply problem; it has a water distribution problem.

Therefore, to address the water shortages in Western states, we propose a major new infrastructure project that could revolutionize water distribution in the U.S. and further development of the western half of the nation: long-distance pipelines.

In much of the West, rain is sparse, and except for parts of the Pacific Northwest, water comes largely from a variety of non-precipitation sources. California, for example, has a hodge-podge of sources, one of the most important of which is the Colorado River, which supplies most of the water for farm irrigation and urban areas in the southern part of the state. Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Mexico all share the river’s resources.

The largest eastern river, the Mississippi, has about 30 times the average annual flow of the Colorado, and the Columbia has close to 10 times.  Water from these and other large rivers pours unused into the sea.

Thus, the West’s chronic water shortages result from a failure to appropriately redistribute our nation’s abundant total water resources.

We currently transport oil, but not water, across America, although water can move through pipelines, tunnels, and aqueducts with perfect safety over long distances on a virtually limitless scale.

We envision a major combined federal and private hallmark program for the nation – an Interstate Water System (IWS), which would rival in importance and transformative potential the Interstate Highway System, whose formation was championed by President Dwight Eisenhower. America already moves some water and stores it in man-made lakes, and the IWS would be designed to expand the country’s water-related infrastructure by crossing state boundaries to transport water from where America has an abundance of it to where it is needed. With modifications and expansions over time, no part of the U.S. need find itself short of water.

The IWS is practicable. Assume that an initial goal might be doubling the water flow, averaging about 20,000 cubic feet per second, to Colorado River system reservoirs. Pumping Mississippi River water to about 4,000-5,000 feet altitude would likely be needed to supply reservoirs Lake Mead (altitude 1,100 feet) and/or Lake Powell (altitude 3,600 feet). We estimate that fewer than 10 power plants of typical one-gigawatt size could provide the energy to move water halfway across the nation to double the flow of the Colorado River, while gravity-driven flow turning turbines below its reservoir lakes would eventually regenerate much of the input energy required.

If feasibility studies confirm the basic assumptions, the implications would be enormous. The project would create innumerable jobs, provide many construction and other business opportunities, and facilitate national growth and development. Interstate highway and railroad routes suggest cross-country paths for an IWS. Energy supply is not limiting.

The IWS would evolve over years, as did the Interstate Highway System. To make it happen, we need recognition of the great long-term importance of the fundamental idea, and the determination to pursue it at the highest levels of government and industry. The sooner we start, the better.

Schulman, a physician, scientist, former professor, and chairman of Genetics & IVF Institute, lives in the American East and West. Schaefer is a chemist, former president of the University of Arizona, and chairman of REhnu, Inc. Miller is a physician, molecular biologist, and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.


  1. Stan Sexton says

    Hey, we’re running out of water but San Diego is issuing permits for 4000+ sf houses every day!

    • Stan, it’s not a square footage of a home issue, it’s a Democrat controlled government issue. California needs to be building reservoirs instead of letting runoff flow directly Into the ocean. Look at what the Democrats did to the central valley. They divert water from the farmers directly to the ocean for the sake of a fish.

    • Anthony G. says

      Great comments everyone. I have been saying this forever, If there’s not enough water for us who are already here, then why are we keep hearing we need to keep building more and more housing. Don’t get me wrong if we need the housing fine then, just where is the water going to come from for all this new development if the overlords keep telling us there is not enough water to go around. Thank You.

  2. Hey! California has more than a water problem.
    First its the leadership. That is the primary problem with all of California’s water, energy, and infrastructure problems.
    Water and energy can be fixed with dams. Dams that provide available water and energy generation – better than wind, solar and natural gas or oil.
    California’s leadership shy’s away from the greatest energy provider. With the smallest foot print, the smallest pollution contribution, and it works rain or shine, fog or snow.
    Today the idiots in Sacramento are even turning against natural gas.
    Their goal is apparently to leave its Citizens in the dark, cold, hungry, and broke!
    California’s leadership is void of all wisdom concerning it’s job. They have continually stolen from the Citizen his freedom, his wealth, his education, and his future.
    They fail at everything they attempt and all at a cost that the Citizen has to bear. They can build a high speed rail that has no power source available, and then refuse to build dams! Stupid is epidemic in Sacrament.
    California, today, has no future in water, in energy, or education and even the repair of its roads and bridges.

  3. Raise the dam at Lake Shasta and either build a ginormous desal plant near Eureka and pipe the water across to Shasta or make an arrangement with Washington or Canada to tap into one of the rivers (Columbia) and use a collapsible plastic pipe laid on the ocean floor to bring water South to Shasta. Shasta feeds the Sacramento River which feeds the State. Of course the effing envirowhackos will fight this tooth and nail.

  4. A large percentage of California water flows out to the ocean. Our leadership in California is worried about the fish and not the people. JimM is spot on. I didn’t vote for these idiots, but other residents just keeps voting in these ideologues who don’t care about facts or the results of their actions. When will people wake up?

  5. Hey Iv’e got an idea, let’s smuggle in another 10 million illegals so that it will make the problem much worse and create the very thing we are trying to stop. While we are at it , let’s give social security and free everything to those same illegals and then deny benefits to the Americans who paid in all their lives. Yes , this was sarcasm.
    From the Sword of—–

  6. Great idea but does the rest of the Country really want or care about Socialist/Communist Cali anymore?

  7. Janice Anderson says

    This is nothing new. These ideas have been bandied about for quite some time. However, it will NEVER happen! Why? Because other states are unwilling to assist the crazies in Cali, the enviro-wackos will stand in the way and our fearless leaders in Sacramento don’t want it. They would rather see this state become a desert. We have a government that is unwilling to do what is necessary for this state to survive, let alone flourish. Sacramento has been at war (Delta Smelt, farmers, ranchers, fracking) with the Central Valley for quite some time. Never mind that we feed the world and are responsible for a large percentage of the wealth brought to this state. It has been on the books to add water storage since Brown Sr. was in office. Yet nothing has happened. I was one of the last rafters on the Stanislaus before California’s last major reservoir project was built, New Melones Lake…in the 1970’s!
    Not only do we need more water resources and storage, management of our current resources is also a key factor. Water storage we have, must be monitored and cared for. Key example, Lake Isabella…it remained at record low levels during good times and bad, due to cracks in the dam. In the meantime, water was lost, and citizens suffered. Lakes and rivers build up with silt and debris that must be extricated in order to maintain storage levels. Water health is affected by contagions, algal blooms, parasites, among other things, that can endanger man and animal. Enviro-wackos have been instrumental in limiting or removing access to water, dams, hydro-electric plants, etc. Never mind that bureaucrats continue to validate housing projects by the thousands, causing extreme pressure on already limited resources (and not just water). Look at Lake Shasta and how quickly it now lowers to frightening levels, largely due to the increased demand of an ever-increasing population and impairing local businesses and residents.
    There should be a moratorium on building until the state figures out a sustainable way to add and maintain much needed resources for the current populace. Regrettably, greedy politicians only want more tax dollars and control. I do not understand how advantageous to the tax base Section 8 and low-income housing can truly be. Not to mention the destruction of industries that support this state and our mountains and farmlands to add more housing and shopping centers. Often development occurs in areas no man should be, due to the potential of fire and flood, which costs this state and its citizens greatly every year in loss of life and property. Surely, the cost of disasters, natural and man-made outweigh any tax benefits.
    My family is multi-generational Californian. Sadly, this is not the state I grew up in. I never, ever thought I would leave this beautiful state, but I am considering relocating my family, my residences and my businesses to another state. My biggest hope is that I can make it happen before the bottom falls out and I am trapped in a greedy, sub-standard state that has no regard for its people. The super majority in Sacramento, along with our powerless, weak Governor, do not seem to care about the sanctity of our lands and their preservation, nor the protection of our industries, including ag and oil. Instead, they rule over us, rather than govern as we, the people, their employers, ask. Dictating how we live, what we drive, when we can turn on our lights, use our water, what to eat and prevent us from protecting ourselves and peoperty. Empowered by sycophants (Hollywood, San Francisco) and their money, Sacramento is getting away with the destruction of a once prosperous and beautiful state.
    We only have two options…vote them out or vote with our feet, removing our income earning selves, our wealth and leave this once prosperous state. Oh, but wait…isn’t Sacramento trying to reach beyond the state borders and tax all those that choose to leave? The Super Majority has got to go!

    • showandtell says

      Great post, thanks for writing it.
      I was born here too and resent being forced out. Sure hope we can vote the bastards out, but even that is questionable considering what they have done to undermine our election integrity.
      Always wishing good people would stay, though, if at all possible, so we can take our stand together. Best wishes —

  8. I can recall the same program being proposed during the 1950s when the interstate was being built. There was a draught in the SW and Uncle Sam was already digging and had right of ways. But then the weather turned in the SW, the rains came and everybody forgot about needing water. A similar program to move water to West Texas also went kaput.

    Assuming it would be politically possible to build, where are the CA reservoirs to store the water?

    More tax?

    • I’m guessing the resevoir is in Oregon and the water is traveling via pipeline to Shasta when the level has already dropped.

  9. Boris Badenov says

    5% of the water in this insane state goes to people, some 45% or so goes to agriculture, the rest is FLUSHED out into the ocean. Now I like fish but my question has always been…WTH did the salmon do before there were dams during the summer when the flow was low and the water warm…Oh I know…they stayed out in the ocean and WAITED for the water levels to rise. I saw this year after year on the San Lorenzo river, got low, no fish, water came up, fish. Not that damn hard to understand…..unless you’re a democrat.

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