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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The western United States is going through a “megadrought” and people are desperate to come up with a long-term solution. One idea that keeps coming up is diverting the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers to help feed the Colorado River basin. The problem is that the Midwestern states do not have an incentive to help, and that is just the beginning of the issues with this grand plan.

Mississippi River Basin in the USA detailed editable vector map, trending color scheme

Last week Governor Mike Parson issued an executive order to help fight the dry conditions in Missouri. The threat of drought is on the minds of farmers in the southern portions of the state. Many government agencies will be forming plans to help deal with the dry conditions.

Rainfall amounts are almost 3 inches below normal since June 1 and much of the St. Louis region is in the “abnormally dry” category on the drought monitor, with some areas slipping into moderate drought.

The dry times are also on the minds of people living to the west of Missouri. The western United States is in a “megadrought.” It is currently undergoing the driest 22-year period in the region since the year 800. NASA has published new photographs taken from space of the drastic water loss seen at Lake Mead over the last twenty years.

A letter to the editor published in the LA Times asks the United States to get creative and divert water to the west.

“Why not begin a grand national infrastructure project of building a water pipeline from those flooded states to the Southwest?

Specifically, start with a line from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River at Lake Powell, where a seven-state compact divvies up the water. Moreover, we need water in our dams for hydroelectric power as well as for drinking and irrigation, so we would power the Hoover, Glen Canyon and Parker dams.

The main pipeline would span about 1,000 miles from Jackson, Miss., along the southern borders of Colorado and Utah to Lake Powell, at an elevation of about 3,700 feet.”

Jeff Drobman – Letter to the LA Times

This is not the first time this idea has been floated. A writer for the Arizona Republic says that each time she writes about water shortages readers send her solutions like diverting the Mississippi River. The problem is that it probably won’t work. Joanna Allhands explains why:

list of america's most endangered rivers
1) Colorado River; 2) Snake River; 3) Mobile River; 4) Maine’s Atlantic Salmon Rivers; 5) Coosa River; 6) Mississippi River; 7) Lower Kern River; 8) San Pedro River; 9) Los Angeles River; 10) Tar Creek. (Graphic: America’s Most Endangered Rivers)

“Because we’ve studied this before, multiple times. Each solution has been projected to cost multiple billions of dollars. Most would not produce enough water to fix our problems. And trust me, someone’s going to fight several hundred miles of pipe being laid across their land to make this happen.

Even if we could somehow find the cash, we don’t have multiple decades to fight this out in court. And even then, we can’t risk the chance of it being canceled midstream, like the Keystone XL Pipeline was,” writes Joanna Allhands.

The US government has been studying how to augment the supply of the Colorado River basin. The 2008 report outlines many other options like ocean water desalination, cloud seeding, evaporation control, and stormwater storage as long-term solutions. They say that diverting water from another river system could be difficult because you would need to get approval from other local governments and they would need to see a benefit.