Are we ready to fight a water war?
Regardless whether it was Mark Twain or Will Rogers, the man who said, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” was not referring to the current troubles on the Mississippi River. This amusing quote may, however, prove to be clairvoyant if the drought plaguing the middle of country continues much longer.
Chances are few Vidalia residents have heard of The Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study. Given that the city leaders borrowed $6 million dollars due to abnormally low river levels, the study of the future water supply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah could have a direct impact not just on Vidalia residents, but on all of those who live in the lower Mississippi River region.
One only has to drive across the bridge to see how low the river is. Thursday afternoon the river stood at 10.18 feet.
For months, river levels have been the lowest since 1988. That was two years before the Sydney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Plant went into full-scale operations in 1990.
The abnormally low levels of the river have placed Vidalia in a bind. Low levels cut the output of the plant, thereby cutting a source of significant funds to the city. Reduced power output means a multi-million dollar loss to Vidalia’s budget.
Cities and states on the other side of the Rocky Mountains are facing a water shortage of their own. Rising populations have many western states looking for alternative water resources.
The Colorado River provides water for 30 million people and irrigation for nearly 4 million acres of the agricultural land. Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began studying ways to address future water supply problems in this region.
This study culminated in a report issued earlier this year.
According to the basin study, the arid portion of the western United States is already using more water than is available. Problems will continue to worsen unless the region finds alternatives sources, the study warns.
This same study offers hundred of solutions to the problem. Believe it or not, one of the many alternatives suggested is to build a pipeline to remove water from the Missouri River and transport it more than 600 miles across the country to the Colorado River.
The Missouri is the same river over which a small skirmish recently broke out. Earlier this month, the Corps of Engineers cut the outflow of the river by two-thirds, meaning far less water runs into the Mississippi River. Despite pleas to keep the waters flowing, the Corps went ahead with its plan. The action worsened an already critical situation in St. Louis and other river towns downstream, including Vidalia.
With less water from the Missouri and no real significant rainfall, predictions show the river will drop another 3.5 feet in St. Louis by the middle of January. At that point, the river will be so low that the Corps may be forced to suspend barge traffic.
Whose water is it anyway? That is a question that will have to be answered soon. The basin study suggests that the Missouri has water to spare. Maybe the current troubles on the Mississippi River show otherwise.
Any movement to build a pipeline that will take out even more water from the Missouri River could surely start an even fiercer water war that will spread across the entire middle portion of the country.
The thought of it might have Vidalians ready to take up arms or maybe it will drive them to drink.
Either way, Mark Twain or Will Rogers was right.
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at email@example.com.