Open letter to the US House Committee on Natural Resources

Congratulations on passing the 2019 Seven-State Colorado River Drought Relief Plan.

One other thing ..

It may be smarter to fix the problem instead of trying to mitigate the problem. The root problem here is that the water cycle has been broken. I agree that it may not be able to be totally fixed, but the problem can be greatly reduced.

What is the water cycle?

The water cycle is somewhat simple, but complex in that it has many moving parts. Let me explain the simple. Water evaporates from its place on the ground and is taken up as water vapor to be turned into rain and snow. The rain and snow are redeposited on land and makes its way into the river. The river flows and returns the water to the point where it started so that it can be evaporated again. I know that this is oversimplified, but good for a brief description of the process.

What broke the water cycle?

As always there is no one cause, but there can be a primary cause. In this case the many causes can include Climate Change, but I do not think this is the primary cause. I believe the primary cause is the redirection of water from Colorado River outside of its watershed [1].

How can this happen?

For people inside the watershed; this is common knowledge, but for the others… The Colorado River is the source of drinking and irrigation water for many places far removed from the Colorado River watershed. The water has been being removed since 1870 [2] with increasing quantiles in more recent years. Now large quantities are being channeled or piped great distances to be used for drinking water, crop irrigation and various industrial purposes. Once the water leaves the local watershed it does not easily reenter the local water cycle.

Is there evidence that the water cycle is broken?

Yes. There is clear evidence. It is obvious because the Colorado River runs dry [3] before it reaches its outlet in the ocean. This is not normal for a river to have a smaller flow at its end than in its middle.

How can this be fixed?

This can be fixed with some relatively simple engineering tasks. These tasks will require much less effort that was expended to divert the water. With the completion of these tasks it is almost assured that the water cycle can be healed.

Task One:

Fill Laguna Salada, Mexico with ocean water from an open-flow channel dug between the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) and Laguna Salada. Laguna Salada was fed by the Colorado River, but Laguna Salada has been essentially dry since 2000 [4]. There is a water path from Laguna Salada to the Sea of Cortez intended to channel excess water to the ocean. The task which needs completion is to deepen this water path so that the water flow is reversed, and Laguna Salada is filled with ocean water. Once Laguna Salada is refilled with water; that water can begin its work to replenish the Colorado River watershed with rain and snow.

Task Two:

Create the Borrego Valley Reservoir; a new ocean water reservoir between Salton Sea and Laguan Salada. This reservoir is to be fed by Laguna Salada. I am not sure that anyone has ever proposed this before; regardless, this is a logical next phase in repairing the water cycle. The work would require a gravity flow cannel to be dug from Laguna Salada into southern California, where the Borrego Valley Reservoir can be built using the excavated soil from the construction of the canal. This area is also below sea level and is desert with little habitation. The Borrego Valley Reservoir will provide additional water surface area from which water can evaporate to replenish the water cycle rain and snow.

Task Three:

Refill the Salton Sea with ocean water by a restricted flow channel from the Borrego Valley Reservoir. The optimum fix for the water cycle would be to refill Lake Cahuilla [5], but this would dislocate many area residents so it likely will not occur. The best alternative is to refill the Salton Sea to its historic optimum level. This can be done by a gravity flow restricted water release from the Borrego Valley Reservoir. The water could be used for power generation as it travels to the Salton Sea, but this enhancement can be added later. What is most important is to increase the Salton Sea water level so that there is more surface area for evaporation.  

Task Four:

Increase the surface level of The Great Salt Lake, Utah. This may occur naturally with the completion of the above three tasks, but there is a more direct method of assuring the water level in The Great Salt Lake. The task here is to create a gravity flow channel from the Snake River, Idaho to The Great Salt Lake. Idaho is experiencing drought related problems, but they have water flowing from their state into the Pacific Ocean via the Snake River. Some of that water could be diverted into The Great Salt Lake, which would then evaporate and return to Idaho in form of Rain and Snow to replenish the Snake and Colorado Rivers.

These tasks sound like lots of effort.

These tasks sound like lots of effort, but the effort is worth the cost. We humans need to be good stewards of our home planet and when we break something, we should repair it. The effort to conduct these tasks is much less than the effort which has been expended to remove water from the Colorado River. In comparison these are simple tasks.

[1] https://www.watereducation.org/aquapedia/colorado-river-timeline

[2] https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/hisdiv.html

[3] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-colorado-river-runs-dry-61427169/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmJOh34OWO0&t=125s

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Cahuilla

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