ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Fire and Rain: Why can’t we send water from places that have too much to places that have too little?

We pipe crude oil, so why not H2O?

NBC Nightly News screen shot by Noel Holston

Don’t expect an answer to these questions in this essay. I’m posing them only because the notion has been nagging me since the first time I saw a helicopter on a TV newscast dumping a giant bucket of water on a California wildfire. Which was at least a decade ago.

Maybe there’s a civil engineer or a hydrologist out there in Medium-land who can weigh in — or somebody who knows one and can pass this post along.

The fact that nobody has already acted on this idea may be an answer in itself. Maybe it’s prohibitively expensive. Maybe it would do more environmental damage than good. Maybe it’s just nutty.

But here goes anyway. Let me try to make a case for this.

We’ve got some part of California and other Western states consumed by wildfires almost all the time — the consequence of, among other things, lack of rainfall, increasing temperatures, residential sprawl and accumulated, combustible undergrowth.

Meanwhile, water levels in Western lakes and rivers are falling to record lows because of climate-change induced drought.

Meanwhile, we’ve got monsoon like rains flooding some place in the Midwest or East almost every week. Jackson, Mississippi, is currently experiencing a water catastrophe because torrential rains have exacerbated longstanding city water system issues. Summerville, Georgia, up north of where I live, just got nearly 14 inches of rain, putting most of the town under water.

NBC Nightly News screen shot by Noel Holston

Why can’t we siphon off water from flooded neighborhoods and overflowing rivers, divert it to natural reservoirs or huge water tanks (“rain barrels”), and disperse it when it’s need in regions suffering drought and fires? Planes and choppers already scoop up water to dump on active blazes. Why not be proactive and moisten arid regions before a negligent camper or lightning strike ignites the next wildfire?

OK, so how do we get the water to the needy regions?

Well, every day, tanker trucks with capacities ranging from 5,500 to 11,600 gallons haul liquids from gasoline and mild corrosives to milk and molasses across the country. Why couldn’t they transport water to parched places?

And if trucking water is a bad idea because it would add to carbon emissions, what about pipelines?

Our country is home to the greatest number of oil pipelines in the world — more than 160 at last count. If we can pipe oil, a leak of which can do godawful, lasting environmental damage, why can’t we pipe the essence of life from rain-prone “reservoir” regions to be sprayed on tinderbox terrain in California or Montana? If a water pipeline springs a leak, not such a big deal.

The Desert Sun, a Palm Springs newspaper, recently published a news feature in which various experts weighed in on the prospects of diverting some Mississippi River water to Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir that stores runoff from the Colorado River Basin and is used to generate hydroelectric power for and supply water to California, Arizona and Nevada. Powell’s water level is critically low and shrinking.

Engineers told the Sun reporter a pipeline from the Mississippi was technically feasible. But water experts said it would likely take decades to clear legal hurdles to such an interstate project. And biologists and environmental attorneys said Louisiana can’t afford to lose a drop of Big Muddy’s water.

I’d like to see that specific disagreement argued out in a public, televised forum, but what I’m talking about is more ambitious than refilling Lake Powell or Lake Mead.

I am suggesting we capture rainfall in a way that would mitigate flooding and transfer it, some way or another, to places that would benefit from being sprinkled on an ongoing, preemptive basis, not just when they burst into flames.

If such a transfer of water is indeed feasible, how can we not seriously explore doing it, politics be damned?

Again, I’m just asking.

Tell me if I’m all wet.

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Noel Holston

Noel Holston

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Writer, photographer, horticulturist, international music icon. Lives in the South. Email Noel at nholstonga@gmail.com