Pipe Great Lakes water to Southwest? Not so fast

Apr 14, 2017
Originally published on April 21, 2017 11:15 am

Talk of a fictional pipeline that could carry Great Lakes water to the Southwest caused a recent uproar from folks around the lakes. But the NASA scientist who mentioned the idea says Phoenix and other desert cities aren’t coming for the Great Lakes’ water any time soon.

“Such models, that can realistically transport water from a natural system via aqueducts, canals, pipelines, etc., to another managed or natural system, really don’t exist,” said hydrologist and water scientist Jay Famiglietti.

In an interview on Ideas last week, Famiglietti told ideastream’s Tony Ganzer that “because there’s so much fresh water, you can imagine that 50 years from now, well we’re already talking about this, but 50 years from now there might actually be a pipeline that brings water from the Great Lakes to Phoenix.  I think that’s part of our future.” 

Regulations prohibit cities outside the Great Lakes basin from using those waters. But some worry that as water becomes more scarce in the western U.S. or other parts of the world, there will be a push to draw from the lakes, which hold about 20 percent of the world's fresh water.

Famiglietti’s prediction even prompted a reaction from Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who called the idea “misguided”.

A link to the story on Great Lakes Today’s Facebook page prompted a similar angry reaction. One commenter said, “you moved to a desert, learn how to survive there”.  Others expressed their disapproval of the idea, with one writing “over our dead bodies”.

Famiglietti himself tweeted that he is not in favor of such a pipeline.  In an email, he said the lack of models like this can delay the need for “comprehensive impact studies”. 

“A good example is the need to do a detailed modeling study of the California proposal to build twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to connect the northern and southern aqueduct systems,” wrote Famiglietti.  “There is really no way to do a comprehensive modeling study of the full environmental impacts since no model exists that could do it.”

Famiglietti says he has not heard of any modeling in the Great Lakes or anywhere else.  He says he’s working on a modeling study for the western United States that will take years to complete, due to the complexities of such a study.

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