More pipe dreams 
for Colorado water?

Proposals to deal with anticipated water shortages along Colorado’s Front Range have long included costly and sometimes far-fetched ideas to bring water from far away.

The latest idea, not as far-fetched as some earlier proposals, is to take water out of the Misssouri River at the Kansas-Missouri border and pump it back to Colorado. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to evaluate the feasibility of this plan.

With concerns about drought, climate change and long-term availability of water in the rivers of this state, it’s understandable that planners are continually looking for additional sources of water for Colorado. Perhaps because Denver and other Front Range water entities proved, early in the last century, they could tap into water on the Western Slope and transport it through the mountains to thirsty farms and cities east of the Continental Divide, the notion has long been embedded here that massive pipeline projects are the best solutions for any expected water shortages.

As the water needs have grown, so, too, have fantastical ideas to bring water from far away. The plan to tap into Flaming Gorge Reservoir and pipe the water across hundreds of miles of southern Wyoming is still being promoted by some in Colorado, even though two federal agencies rejected the idea and the multibillion-dollar cost estimate has continued to grow.

There have also been suggestions to bring water from the Columbia River, from icebergs in the Arctic and from the northern Mississippi River.

The Missouri River Reuse Project may not be as fanciful as some ideas the Bureau of Reclamation has rejected.

We think it’s fine that the federal agency evaluate the Missouri River project. It has several advantages over other large pipeline plans.

First, there are no mountains to blast through. Also, from a Western Slope perspective, it would provide new water to the Front Range without reducing the supply available to users on this side of the Divide. That will become ever more important if drought continues or climate change substantially reduces the amount of water available in the Colorado River Basin.

But, as with every other project that would transfer huge amounts of water from one river basin to another, questions of cost and who will pay are likely to be the deciding factors for the Missouri River Reuse Project.

Colorado needs additional, cost-effective reservoir storage, along with more conservation and reuse of its water to best take advantage of the water we already have. In that regard, the Colorado Cooperative Agreement nearing completion among Denver Water, suburban Denver water groups and water organizations on the Western Slope appears far more important than the latest grandiose inter-basin transfer plan, which may forever remain a pipe dream.

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