Arizona legislators are looking eastward to ease the impact of a two-decade drought in the Colorado River Basin.
According to Arizona Rep. Tim Dunn, who represents the area of Yuma, the Legislature is asking Congress to fund a technological and feasibility study for diverting floodwater from the Mississippi River to replenish the Colorado River. Whether that comes in the form of a diversion dam or pipeline, Dunn says the plan would benefit both the Midwestern and Southwestern United States.
Flooding on the Mississippi River was responsible for 12 deaths and more than $20 billion in economic losses throughout 2019, according to a study by the National Centers for Environmental Information. But if a portion of that water were to be diverted into the Colorado, such a project could potentially save lives as well as stabilize river economies throughout the Midwest, Dunn says.
Meanwhile, Dunn says Arizona is entering its 20th year of severe drought, and water is at critical levels throughout the Colorado River Basin. Dunn is urging the U.S. congress to create a dam or pipeline as a partial solution to water supply shortage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, as well as a solution to the impact of flooding on the Mississippi River.
According to projections released last month by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead is expected to reach an all-time low elevation next month. The man-made lake, which is used by federal officials to determine drought levels throughout the Southwest, is expected to fall below 1,075 feet for the first time, and trigger a Level 1 shortage condition. If that happens, cuts to water allocations throughout the Lower Colorado River basin would ultimately follow at the beginning of next year.
“A new water source would help augment Colorado River supplies,” Dunn said in a news release this week. “Diverting (Mississippi floodwaters), which would otherwise be lost into the Gulf of Mexico, would help prevent the loss of human life and billions in economic damages when flooding occurs.”
According to Dunn, it’s an experiment that has already met positive results in Denver, where floodwater has been successfully harvested from the Missouri River to alleviate the city’s own water shortage.
Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould, who himself is a former Arizona state senator, says that Dunn’s plan may have merit, if it proves feasible.
“Another option would be that if California can desalinate their own water, we could use more of California’s allotment of Colorado River water here in Arizona,” Gould said on Tuesday.
The proposal of transferring water rights from one body of water to another, however, has been a contentious topic for the Mohave County Board of Supervisors throughout the past several years. This year, the county maintained its opposition to a state-recommended transfer of water rights from the Colorado River to the town of Queen Creek, in Central Arizona.
“The Mississippi River has an abundance of water to divert,” Gould said. “We don’t have an abundance here. This region has been in a drought for most of my life, and I think they set our water allotment during a wet period in history. The amount we’re supposed to be getting is unattainable.”
Copies of Dunn’s proposal has been submitted to the office of President Biden, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and each member of Arizona’s congressional delegation.
Dunn’s proposal was also submitted to the governors of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.