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Can U.S. move water from flood to drought areas?

As the soggy East tries to dry out from flooding and Texas prays for rain that doesn't come, you might ask: Isn't there some way to ship all that water where it's needed?

It's an idea that has tempted some, but reality gets in the way.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens once envisioned pipelines carrying water to drought-stricken Texas cities, just one of several untested fantasies of moving water vast distances. Parched Las Vegas still wants to siphon off excess water from the overflowing Mississippi River. French engineers have simulated hauling an iceberg to barren Africa.

There's certainly plenty of rainwater available. Tropical Storm Lee dumped enough on the already saturated Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Gulf Coast to bring 9.6 inches of rain across the entire state of Texas, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Associated Press.

"One man's flood control is another man's water supply," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "Doesn't it make you want to think about a larger distribution that helps both? That's the crazy part of this. It's a win-win. There's no loser."

But moving vast quantities of water is not simple or cheap, and thus not realistic, experts say.

"We will go to any lengths to avoid confronting the reality of water shortages," said Arizona State University law professor Robert Glennon, author of the book Unquenchable.

"What all those zany ideas suggest are the traditional beliefs that we can control nature and there must be some oasis out there where we can go to, to import water."

So how about moving it?

"The short answer … is that it costs too much. It's not a technical problem," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Studies Institute and a MacArthur grant recipient for his work on water.

Water weighs a lot — about 8.3 pounds per gallon — so moving massive amounts, often up mountains, costs a lot, Glennon said. Gleick notes that conservation and efficiency are cheaper.

Can U.S. move water from flood to drought areas? 09/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 7:40pm]
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