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Achieving Permanent Water Security to Colorado Basin is a Dream, Without Transbasin Diversion from Mississippi River

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
3. Water security in a changing world
Author(s): Natarajan Pachamuthu

Natarajan Pachamuthu
Member - Working Group, Planning Commission, Government of Tamil Nadu

Keyword(s): Colorado River basin, Megadrought, Water miseries, Water security pathways, Transbasin Diversion of water, Desalination of seawater


Reason for the study

Almost all water management pathways are being practiced in the Colorado River basin, including sharing of water by the 1922 Colorado Compact. However, these existing pathways are unable to sustain water resources development in this basin, particularly to California, Arisona and Nevada States, because of the present megadrought continuing since 2012, and hence sharing the Mississippi River excess water let into the sea is the permanent option to sustain water resources development in the whole basin against similar droughts in future.

Water miseries of the Colorado River basin

This basin has been experiencing the impacts on water resources, hydropower, recreation, and ecologic services because of the periodical droughts. Further, the basin has experienced its lowest 16-year period of inflow in over 100years, and reservoir storage in the Colorado River system has declined from nearly full to about half of capacity. As per US-Davis Centre for Water Science/USA, the farmers left 400,000acres in 2014 and 560,000acres in 2015, or 6% of the State’s annual irrigated cropland unplanted in California alone due to drought. Since Colorado River basin is located in the arid Western/USA, similar water woes are likely to intensify in future and cause even bigger miseries, because of anthropogenic climate change impact.

Materials and methods

As a frequent visitor to California State, the author is also experiencing drought miseries.  Without access to official data, only with internet data sources, the author would like to arrest the water woes of the Colorado basin at least in future with his 40 years experience in water sector. Since the basin is unable to achieve sustainable water resources development even after practicing innovative approaches, the author is suggesting transbasin diversion, the permanent water security option from Mississippi River to this basin.


After experiencing the periodical droughts in the arid Colorado River basin, the Seven Colorado River Basin States and the Bureau of Reclamation have assessed, 3.95km3 of water per annum is necessary by 2060, to arrest the water supply demand gap. Since the existing water management strategies in this basin are ineffective to sustain the water demand, the author is suggesting sharing Mississippi river water, where about 573.05km3, 145.08 times the Colorado River basin’s annual water demand is let into the sea. 

Mississippi water is to be shared by pumping, tentatively to a distance of 1,203.94miles/1,937.56km near Vicksburg/Natchez, Mississippi State to Green river/Wyoming state, since the elevation above mean sea level near pumping and delivery is 82m and 1,864m respectively? As per the Carlsbad desalination plant/SanDiego, 57 plants are necessary, each at 190MLD/190,000m3 of water, to arrest the imbalance. Cost of the plants (capital+delivery+unforeseen), and annual maintenance will be $77billion and $969million respectively? The additional sources of water supply, desalination/interbasin, can be decided based on the economics/benefits. However, in the changing global water demand scenario, the permanent option might be transbasin diversion. As per Tim James et al, 2014, Arizona State University, this basin needs this exercise to prevent $1,298.02billion annual loss, because of Colorado River water shortage.

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