In a drier future, thirsty states could look to Columbia River

Posted: Nov 30, 1999

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Thirsty states in the Southwest recently crafted a list of ways to sate their parched populations. Among their ideas, they envisioned snaking a fiberglass straw along the Pacific coast to slurp water from the Columbia River.

Some in the Northwest see water as the new oil -- a profitable commodity that can be sold to drier states for a profit, the way Texas sells oil from pipelines. But others argue that such a deal would be a blow to the environment and would be too expensive.

Colorado River states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- have been studying options for how to bring in extra supplies to the drying water system. They considered more than 10 possibilities, two of which involve the Northwest. One option would involve a high-strength fiberglass pipeline collecting water near the mouth of the Columbia and heading south offshore.

Southwest leaders insist they are not coming after Northwest water supplies. The pipeline and other options are not recommendations, according to Bill Rinne, director of surface water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas, which led the study. Rather, they are concepts to consider as the West grows and develops.

Some Oregonians agree. "We have a valuable commodity, and if we can make use of it without harming the environment and harming fish and while respecting tribal commitments, we ought to look at that," said state Sen. David Nelson (R).

But Richard Golb, a water consultant who represents irrigation districts in Oregon and is the former executive director of a California water association, said there is no extra water in the Columbia to give away. Oregon needs its water, he said (Michael Milstein, Portland Oregonian, Aug. 10).

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