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Credit: PUBLIC WORKS

Chicago's “enjoying” its wettest July ever — 10 ½ inches compared to July 1889's 9 ½ inches — and the month's not over. Yet while we in the Midwest are sick of being water-logged, folks in other parts of the country lick their parched lips. Only 1.97% of Texas, for example, isn't in a stage of drought. Lake Mead, one of the world's largest reservoirs and the main source of drinking water for western states, is 45% full.

I, for one, would love to share the wealth with these people.

U.S. Energy Department consultant Ronald Beaulieu believes he can help. Available through Amazon.com, his “National Smart Water Grid” would capture and pump up to 60 million acre-feet of water from the Mississippi River and its tributaries — the world's third-largest freshwater river system, by the way — to the Colorado River basin and Lake Powell, Utah, to supplement supplies for chronically thirsty Americans out West.

When a source river exceeds flood level, water would flow into slotted drains over arch-pipes in levee walls (Beaulieu's invention) and flow via gravity to interim storage tanks, activating pumps that would move the floodwater into and through a network of four major pipelines running 3,200 miles through 12 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. (I'd include a map but couldn't find one of printable quality.)

The $82-billion system would pay for itself through sales to the aforementioned thirsty Americans and billions in savings on insurance claims related to flood damage in the Midwest, which for whatever reason (global warming? bad luck? cyclical changes in the planet's atmosphere?) has been getting higher-than-average annual rainfalls.

It'd be a massive, multijurisdictional effort — not something the United States is particularly good at.

Beaulieu, an engineer, addresses virtually all inherent challenges: water agreements with Canada and Mexico, water quality, revenue sharing among the various levels of government involved, right-of-way negotiations, impact on the National Flood Insurance Program, and environmental impacts.

It's not like we haven't done something like this before. What was the Hoover Dam if not an investment in developing regional water and power resources? The interstate highway system if not an advancement in national security?

It's so easy to forget that, without water, we die. Until recently, Americans spent more on bottled water and fancy coffee than a gallon of gasoline. Perhaps it's time to rethink our priorities.

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief

Reader comments:

We'd rather concentrate on things we need to address than spin our wheels on the master plan process. It's crystal ball gazing: our plan's loaded with things we'll never get done.

Only the first five years of a plan have any degree of accuracy, anyway.

Affluent communities continuously review theirs to lay the groundwork for new development activities.

A review period should be related to the rate at which changes are taking place and what's learned from changes being implemented.

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