For Sale: Columbia River Water, Price: To Be Determined

Central Arizona Project canal. Mayabe full of Columbia R. water someday?I’m stealing liberally from my colleague Michael Campana’s Water Wired here.  An old friend argued to me once that all research is just stealing with citations, anyway. Yet, this topic was just too good to pass up, especially given my provenance as a Southwestern water geek now transplanted to the PNW.  Here’s the tale: long ago, in a galaxy far away, water managers in California tapped rivers far to the North of the state’s population bulges in the South and Central regions, built massive dams and aqueducts that dewatered whole valleys to fuel the booming megaregions.  Working with colleagues, water lawyers and politicos in seven states and two nations, they also successfully plumbed the mighty Colorado to supply over 30 million people with water.  The time was the early to mid-20th century and the “we can engineer a better future” mentality was riding high.  At the same time, a few water wonks speculated that the Columbia River–exceeding the Colorado’s flow by about 10 times–could play a role in future growth or drought scenarios. “Ridiculous!” many shouted, “that’s both unfeasible and unnecessary!”

Well, to quote Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changin’.”  It seems that some would quite seriously speculate that we’ve arrived in one one of those scenarios. As the reservoirs in the mighty Colorado dwindle under the weight of 8 years of serious drought (a good winter notwithstanding) and even more serious population growth, it seems that the basin’s states are contemplating just this sort of action (among others that include giant plastic-wrapped icebergs).  Searching for answers to the persistent question of “where will we get our water from,” managers are dredging up ideas that seem at face value to be technically impossible,  politically unfeasible, and economically unpalatable: extending a giant straw to the Colombia (likely inserted at–forgive the pun–the mouth) in order to send some precious water southward.

And Oregonians are contemplating what the water could cost and how we might facilitate selling it to them.  Think this is politically wild science fiction?  Sound like something out of Robert Ludlum meets Marc Riesner? Think again and read Michael Milstein’s piece in yesterday’s Oregonian. While you’re at it, check out the Aquadoc’s word on it too. And don’t forget to take a look at the press release put out by Oregon State Sen. David Nelson (R-Pendelton)  who proposes to sell 1 million acre-feet to out-of-state communities (read: the thirsty Southwest).  While this is still pretty speculative, the times they are a-changin’!