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Water Pipelines are Pipe Dreams for Developers

by NRDC Friday, Jul. 06, 2012 at 10:01 AM

A few western water managers are working to conserve and reuse water supplies. However, NRDC's research has revealed another trend. Most water managers and entrepreneurs are pursuing a growing number of proposals for long-distance water supply pipelines. Some of these projects are extremely large in scale and would stretch for hundreds of miles, raising a host of questions for water policymakers and the public.

The maps below show a number of the of the more prominent pipeline projects in the West. The first map includes existing pipelines, constructed over the past century. The second map represents proposed projects that are currently at different stages of development. These projects were selected to include the largest pipeline projects, as well as broad geographic representation.

Pipeline Projects in Operation

* Little Snake-Douglas Creek Project, WY
Little Snake-Douglas Creek Project, WY
o Delivery Volume: 21,000 acre feet/year
* Additional Colorado Transbasin Diversions, CO. Grand River Ditch, Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, Homestake Tunnel, Moffat Water Tunnel and Twin Lakes Tunnel
Additional Colorado Transbasin Diversions, CO. Grand River Ditch, Harold D. Roberts Tunnel, Homestake Tunnel, Moffat Water Tunnel and Twin Lakes Tunnel
o Delivery Volume: 150,000 acre feet/year
* The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, CO
The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, CO
o Delivery Volume: 213,000 acre feet/year
* Cedar River
San Joan-Chama Project, NM
o Delivery Volume: 86,210 acre feet/year
* Central Utah Project, UT
Central Utah Project, UT
o Delivery Volume: 218,000 acre feet/year
* Central Arizona Project, AZ
Central Arizona Project, AZ
o Delivery Volume: 1,500,000 acre feet/year
* Colorado River Aqueduct, CA
Colorado River Aqueduct, CA
o Delivery Volume: 1,200,000 acre feet/year
* Los Angeles Aqueduct, CA
Los Angeles Aqueduct, CA
o Delivery Volume: 254,000 acre feet/year
* California State Water Project, CA
California State Water Project, CA
o Delivery Volume: 2,400,000 acre feet/year
* Central Valley Project, CA
Central Valley Project, CA
o Delivery Volume: 5,300,000 acre feet/year
* Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, CA
Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, CA
o Delivery Volume: 165,000 acre feet/year
* Mokelumne Aqueduct, CA
Mokelumne Aqueduct, CA
o Delivery Volume: 364,000 acre feet/year
* Portland Water Bureau, OR
Portland Water Bureau, OR
o Delivery Volume: 132,000 acre feet/year
* Cedar River, WA
Cedar River, WA
o Delivery Volume: 103,500 acre feet/year
* Mni Wiconi Rural Water System, SD
Mni Wiconi Rural Water System, SD
o Delivery Volume: Projected 8,591 – 12,474 acre feet/year

Most of these existing pipeline projects were built in conjunction with surface storage projects on major river systems. Those surface storage projects were expensive and often came at significant environmental cost. Nevertheless, they produced relatively reliable sources of water for pipelines and aqueducts to carry to distant users.

Projects "In the Pipeline"

* Flaming Gorge Pipeline
Flaming Gorge Pipeline
o Water source: Colorado River
o Annual deliveries: 250,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $6 billion
o Status: Conceptual
* Lake Powell Pipeline
Lake Powell Pipeline
o Water source: Colorado River
o Cost: $1 billion
o Status: EIS in development
* Yampa River Pumpback
Yampa River Pumpback
o Water source: Yampa River, a tributary of the Green and Colorado Rivers
o Annual deliveries: 300,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $3.2-3.9 billion
o Status: Stalled, after completion of initial study.
* Navajo-Gallup Pipeline
Navajo-Gallup Pipeline
o Water source: San Juan River, a tributary of the Colorado River
o Annual deliveries: 35,893 acre-feet
o Cost: $864 million
o Status: Authorized by congress. EIS issued in 2007.
* Narrows Project
Narrows Project
o Water source: Price River, a tributary of the Green and Colorado Rivers
o Annual deliveries: 5,400 acre-feet
o Cost: $40.3 million
o Status: Draft EIS issued in 2010
* Southern Delivery System
Southern Delivery System
o Water source: Arkansas River
o Annual deliveries: 52,900 acre-feet
o Cost: $1 billion
o Status: Under construction
Ute Lake
o Water source: Canadian River
o Annual deliveries: 16,450 acre-feet
o Cost: $500 million
o Status: FONSI issued 2011
* Santa Fe-Pecos
Santa Fe-Pecos
o Water source: Pecos River
o Annual deliveries: 6,600 acre-feet
o Cost: NA
o Status: Application denied by New Mexico State Engineer in 2011
* Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas
Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas
o Water source: Groundwater in Eastern Nevada
o Annual deliveries: 84,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $3.5 billion
o Status: DEIS issued in 2011
* Cadiz Valley
Cadiz Valley
o Water source: Groundwater
o Annual deliveries: 50,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $277 million
o Status: Draft EIR issued in 2011
* Peripheral Canal
Peripheral Canal
o Water source: San Francisco Bay-Delta
o Annual deliveries: Up to 5.9 million acre-feet
o Cost: $12 billion or more, and additional costs for habitat restoration
o Status: Draft EIS to be issued in late 2012
* Weber Siphon
Weber Siphon
o Water source: Columbia River
o Annual deliveries: 30,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $48 million
o Status: Under construction
o Delivery Volume: 21,000 acre feet/year
* Lewis and Clark Regional Water System
Lewis and Clark Regional Water System
o Water source: Groundwater adjacent to the Missouri River
o Annual deliveries: 24,770 acre-feet
o Cost: $430 million
o Status: Under construction, completion expected in 2019
o Potential impacts: Water users and fish species
* Mississippi River
Mississippi River
o Water source: Mississippi River
o Annual deliveries: Unknown
o Cost: NA
o Status: Conceptual
* Northern Integrated Supply Project
Northern Integrated Supply Project
o Water source: Cache la Poudre River
o Annual deliveries: 40,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $490 million
o Status: Draft EIS in development
* Uvalde to San Antonio
Uvalde to San Antonio
o Water source: Groundwater from the Edwards Aquifer
o Annual deliveries: 40,000 acre-feet
o Cost: $250 million
o Status: A state ban bars pipelines from the Edwards Aquifer

Most of these proposed pipeline projects do not include new surface storage facilities. This change is, to a large extent, the result of the far less abundant water sources that these projects propose to tap into. Together, these new pipeline proposals represent a significant new phase in western water policy, presenting critical issues that must be closely examined before proposed projects are pursued further.

These key issues include: 1) sustainability of water sources, including potential environmental impacts, demands of existing water users, and likely impacts from climate change; 2) conflicts regarding transbasin diversions; 3) costs and potential alternatives, including water use efficiency; 4) energy use; and 5) the role of federal agencies.

Some proposed projects could have dramatic effects on the environment, on existing water users, on water rates, and on the reliability of water supplies for the communities that would be served by them.
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