Desperate measures

With water shortages a constant, Westerners are looking at wacky (and not so wacky) ways to squeeze more water out of the sky and land.

 
  1. Tamarisk removal
    Tamarisk -- which infests some 1 million acres in the West -- chokes out willows and cottonwoods, and ruins beaches. It also slurps up lots of water -- some say a single tamarisk drinks 200 gallons per day. Estimated cost to remove it? $3,000 per acre, though newer methods, such as tamarisk-eating beetles, are cheaper. 
  2. Logging for water
    In 2002, as Colorado was racked by drought, the state proposed something drastic: Clear-cutting its forests to increase runoff. Fewer trees, the theory goes, would result in more snow on the ground -- it was proven on a small scale in Wyoming. Most people just laughed at the idea because of the high cost and environmental impacts. 
  3. The Big Straw
    Hear that sucking sound? This scheme would have had a 200-mile pipeline carrying Colorado River water from the Utah border back, uphill, to the Front Range of Colorado. The idea was born in the 1980s, discarded, then reborn during the 2002 drought. It's dead again, at least until the next devastating dry spell. 
  4. "Oregon's Oil"
    The Colorado River provides water to about three times the population of Oregon and Washington combined, but it has less than one-tenth the water of the Northwest's Columbia River. So why not pipe water from the Columbia down to the Southwest? It's been considered since the 1960s, and just last year, Oregon State Sen. David Nelson began pushing the idea in earnest again to generate revenue for his state. He figures sending some 1 million acre-feet of water southward would net his state about $3 billion per year. The salmon may not like the idea, but if it's not done, says Nelson, "Oregon will become the Appalachia of the West."   
  5. Pipe dreams
    The idea of funneling water from one river basin to another is pretty old hat. But these days, thirsty Western communities are getting more ambitious. Utah's proposed Lake Powell Pipeline would move 100,000 acre-feet of water across 177 miles to three booming counties in southwestern Utah at a cost of at least $1 billion. There's also the Southern Nevada Water Authority's $2 billion-$3.5 billion proposal to pump up to 167,000 acre-feet of groundwater from the state's basin and range country through 327 miles of pipeline to Las Vegas. In Colorado, businessman Aaron Million has proposed a privately financed $2 billion-$4 billion, 400-mile-long pipeline that would transport water from Utah's Flaming Gorge Reservoir through Wyoming to Colorado's Front Range cities.
  6. Bagging it
    During dry 2002, Alaska businessman Ric Davidge proposed filling giant poly-fiber bags with 13 million gallons of water each from Northern California's Gualala River, and then towing them with barges and tugs all the way down the coast to San Diego. The Gualala locals weren't so happy, and when the California Coastal Commission voted to oppose the measure, Davidge withdrew the plan. 
  7. Strange brew
    Conceived in the 1950s, the North American Water and Power Alliance would have moved water from Canada to the Southwest and Great Plains via an ambitious network of pipes and canals, including a giant pump in Montana to clear the Rockies. It actually gained favor on a federal level in the 1960s, but faded into wacky water obscurity by the 1970s. In recent years, the idea has surfaced again. 
  8. Bonanza!
    While studying the source of a couple of wells, Sandoval County, N.M., officials recently discovered an aquifer near the rapidly growing city of Rio Rancho that contains some 4 million acre-feet of water, or enough for a city of 300,000 people for 100 years (75,000 people now live in the city). Rio Rancho officials now have visions of even more growth. Problem is, the water's brackish, so it must be desalinated. Cost to build the pumping and desalting facility? $47 million. 
  9. Off the roof
    In order to harvest rainwater in Colorado, one must navigate onerous state water laws. Not so in one arid Arizona city. In October, Tucson became the first city in the U.S. to require commercial developments to harvest rainwater. Under the law, which takes effect in 2010, developers will have to get half of their landscaping water from the roof. 
  10. Seeding the clouds
    Of all the unconventional solutions to drought, "seeding" rain clouds with silver iodide to increase precipitation is the most widely implemented. Ski areas fund cloud-seeding efforts in Colorado, power companies support it in Idaho and Los Angeles County is forking out $800,000 this year to seed clouds over the San Gabriel Mountains. Problem is, it may not work: It's true that introducing particles into moisture-laden clouds can help create raindrops, but there's not enough conclusive evidence to determine if and how much extra precipitation this may create in a specific spot. And if it does work, is it just stealing rain from those downwind? A five-year study in Wyoming, costing more than $8 million, is under way in hopes of answering these questions. Regardless of its actual effectiveness, it's valuable as a sort of meteorological placebo: Ski areas tout cloud-seeding programs in their marketing propaganda, and water managers get to say they're actually doing something about the weather. Meanwhile, conservation-minded folks say that it would make more sense to spend that money on efficiency measures, such as low-flow toilets and showerheads. 
  11. Pluviculture
    Modern-day cloud seeding may have its roots in the mysterious craft of Charles Mallory Hatfield. Back in the early 1900s, Hatfield built a tower in the San Gabriels from which he disseminated his secret concoction of 23 chemicals into the air in order to create rain. After a storm came, local ranchers paid him $1,000 for his "moisture acceleration" talents. Later, the city of San Diego hired him. A few days after he set up his tower, a deluge struck, breaking a dam and wreaking havoc. The city never paid him.
High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.