This editorial is from the March issue of M&A’s Arizona Water Policy Update.
A new water pipeline is being developed in Azerbaijan to deliver water 164 miles from the Caucasus Mountains to the capital city of Baku. The pipeline will provide water to about three-quarters of the city’s 2 million people. The success of this project seems to contrast with the staggering hurdles facing similar proposed projects in the western U.S. Plans for new or expanded water pipelines are underway in Las Vegas, Colorado’s front range, northern California, southern Utah, and central Arizona (ADD Water). Some proposals are even larger: During a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., last year, SNWA’s Pat Mulroy suggested that the federal government should think even bigger and consider constructing a pipeline to bring Mississippi River water to the western states. But with price tags starting in the $100s of millions and extending upwards to well over $1B, construction has not started on any of these projects and many have yet to secure any of their required permits.
High costs and permitting difficulties will ultimately prevent some of these high-profile water projects from materializing. As water demands continue to grow in the Colorado River Basin, non-pipeline solutions are becoming ever more critical. However, implementation of these solutions will require unprecedented creativity and cooperation among water managers in the seven basin states to develop new agreements that are consistent with the Law of the River. The recent establishment of a water banking account for Mexico is an example of a cooperative solution among river users that did not seem possible a few years ago—one in which all users clearly benefit with no up-front capital investment. While cooperation among diverse entities is a significant challenge, the environmental, political, and economic impediments to large water transfer projects will probably be even more formidable in the future.